Online: Trending Now

Unique biweekly insights and news review
from Ray Schroeder, Senior Fellow at UPCEA

OER and Teaching Through the Rearview Mirror

Course content is a sacred compact between the instructor and the learner. Truth, relevancy and currency are among the key components of that agreement.

In this 21st century, technologies are changing the landscape of industry and society at a rate not previously documented. Are our courses keeping up?

I recall teaching communication technology classes in 1972 on the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois. We felt as though the world was changing rapidly enough. Students were standing in line to punch out computer cards to run FORTRAN 66 programs. However, the Arpanet, the predecessor of the internet, was just in very early development stages, and the World Wide Web was two decades in the future. The essential rich communication and collaboration tools through which so many advances have since been leveraged had not yet been deployed. Artificial intelligence was science fiction. In those lazy days of change, one might be able to get away with using a course syllabus or a textbook two years in a row!

In most fields that kind of slow rollout is not the case today. Advances are not measured decade by decade. “State of the art” is changing month by month in many fields. Not only are technologies changing, but applications are proliferating, industries are emerging, new consumer markets are sprouting and the road map for the future is clear only for the near term.

Our learners may be one, two or three years away from entering, or re-entering, the workforce. We must make every effort to ensure that our teaching will still be relevant those few years ahead. Yet I fear that far too many of our colleagues are using the same texts, the same syllabi, and sharing the same — now stale — facts in their classes with not enough attention to the changes that technologies and social shifts are making in their field. Granted, the rate of change in Greek history and foreign language may not be as rapid as other areas, but their social context, relevance to today’s society and to the near future are surely changing as rapidly as is society as a whole.

As faculty members, we are called upon to understand not only our discipline, but also the broader context in which our course content is applied not only today, but more importantly in the years to come. If we teach a course based on today’s use of information, that will likely be years out of date when the learner is in a position to meaningfully apply the course content. Dated knowledge is a terrible disservice to our learners, our colleagues and the reputation of our program and university.

The speed of textbook publishing has not improved much over the years. Writer’s Digest suggests:

With our rules established above, the typical time it takes for a writer to go from book contract to publication is usually somewhere in the nine months to two years area. Many factors come into play for this range of outcomes, including the size of the press and how far out they plan their production schedule.

Depending upon timing alignment with academic term start dates and distribution, it may well take longer to reach the students. And the next edition may be even more years away.

So, how can we ensure our students are given information and insights that will be timely and relevant when they commence their careers? How can we teach our courses through the windshield, looking forward, rather than through the rearview mirror?

The key is to turn to current materials to keep your classes up-to-date. Open educational resources are proliferating, not only in formal OER texts, but in open research journals, government databases and publicly shared reports. The turnaround time for OER publications is nearly instant depending upon the format desired and the level of peer review used.

Myths surrounding the efficacy of OER are many. In a blog post from TAA Abstract, “Top 9 Myths About OER Publishing,” several leading scholars in the field clarify the misperceived obstacles to publication and use of OER in offering timely materials for classes. The quality of the materials is equal to or better in many cases than those acquired from traditional publishers. The flexibility, relevance and timeliness of OER materials extend far beyond their low cost.

As we enter the fourth Industrial Revolution, we will see technologies changing the workforce, creating new fields, outdating some career paths while creating new ones and shifting society in ways we have yet to imagine. The increasing rate of change shows no signs of abating. Increasingly, we are under pressure as educators to ensure that what we teach is not outdated. We must not be teaching for jobs and career paths that are dwindling away to the dustbin of history. It is incumbent on us to perform the due diligence to assure that what we are teaching will be more relevant tomorrow than yesterday.

Are you and your colleagues teaching through the windshield or the rearview mirror? What steps are you taking to bring new materials and fresh experiences to your classes? Will your teaching hold up through five years? Who is leading the charge to make your curriculum relevant to tomorrow?

This article was originally published in Inside Higher Ed’s Transforming Teaching and Learning blog

Ray Schroeder 2016 Summit for Online Leadership

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

Other UPCEA Updates + Blogs

Data Privacy Regulations Set to Impact Higher Education Marketing and Enrollment

For 25 years, the collection and trading of financial, social, personal, and location data via digital means has been a booming, multi-billion-dollar business. Web cookies and other tracking technologies, such as personal identifiable information (PII), have basically followed digital users almost everywhere they went, and they rarely had much control over what was collected and…

Read More

UPCEA Seeks Part-Time Data Analyst to Join Center for Research and Strategy Team

UPCEA is currently seeking a part-time Data Analyst for a fully remote position with our Center for Research and Strategy team.   The Data Analyst is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and transforming data into actionable insights on various projects for UPCEA. Role responsibilities include identifying, gathering, and analyzing data to produce understandable and insightful figures and…

Read More

In Memoriam: Karen Swan

Long-time UPCEA member and colleague Karen Swan passed away in early September 2021. Dr. Swan served as professor of education at the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Center for Online Learning, Research and Service. Previously, she served as research professor at Kent State University’s Research Center for Educational Technology. Dr. Swan completed her doctorate in…

Read More

Investing in Future Talent: Results of Staffing Needs Snap Poll

With society adapting to a second year of the pandemic, institutions of higher education struggle to find a place of strength in a quickly transforming economy. For obvious reasons, many colleges and universities are banking on a full recovery of demand for undergraduate and graduate degrees and the robustness of the campus experience. Those that…

Read More

Infrastructure Package Passes Senate + $3.5 Trillion “New Deal” Budget Passes House of Representatives | Policy Matters (August 2021)

Major Updates Infrastructure Package Passes Senate + “New Deal” Budget Passes House of Representatives The bipartisan infrastructure package passed the Senate, 69-30, providing a major upgrade to American transportation, broadband investment, water systems, and more, totaling $1 trillion. The legislation includes $14 billion to provide financial assistance to eligible households, including students who receive a…

Read More

Reflections on trends in student success

While many of our colleagues across the country are in the throes of fall orientation, the first weeks of classes, and maybe even a little bit of college football, those of us on the quarter system have well over a month until our fall courses start. And if I’m being honest, I’m still knee deep…

Read More

Whether you need benchmarking studies, or market research for a new program, UPCEA Consulting is the right choice.

We know you. We know the challenges you face and we have the solutions you need. We speak your language and have been serving leaders like you for more than 100 years. UPCEA consultants are current or former continuing and online higher education professionals who are experts in the industry—put our expertise to work for you.


UPCEA is dedicated to advancing quality online learning at the institutional level. UPCEA is uniquely focused on excellence at the highest levels – leadership, administration, strategy – applying a macro lens to the online teaching and learning enterprise. Its engaged members include the stewards of online learning at most of the leading universities in the nation.

We offers a variety of custom research options through a variable pricing model.


Click here to learn more.

The Nation's Top Universities Choose UPCEA Consulting

Informed decisions. Ideas that work. The data you need. Trusted by the top universities in the nation.