Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Mode-Neutral and the Need to Transform Teaching

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Mode-Neutral and the Need to Transform Teaching

Article excerpt


While it is difficult to argue that public administrators at any given point in history face more challenges than at any other point, no one would disagree that public administrators face major new challenges today. It is unlikely that traditional ways of coping will effectively meet the new challenges. We need leaders who are innovative and who are not bound by geography or narrow self-interest.

To grow these leaders, we need to change the way we teach. The "mass production" mode of education, marked by a teacher imparting knowledge and students absorbing facts, will not "produce" transformational leaders. If we are truly concerned with nurturing transformational leaders in our programs, we must use the principles of transformational leadership to design and teach our classes. We need to focus on increasing student choice, power and the enhanced ability of our students to shape their learning experience. This shift in the "locus of control" in MPA classes is one element that will promote the development of transformational leadership in our graduates. Mode neutral approaches to education can be one element that can aid in the development of transformational leaders.

In addition to locus of control, there are other elements that enhance creativity and innovation. Management research leads us to believe that organizational innovation relies on open contribution, peer review, joint development and context setting (Ruggles III, 2004). Again, these are also the goals of mode neutral approaches.


What is mode neutral education? Smith defines mode neutral as "a method that allows students to progress across modes of delivery (face-to-face, online and blended) at any point throughout their study based on their preferences, requirements, personal and professional commitments without compromising their learning" (Reed, Smith, & Sherrat, 2008). In a class setting this means that students may choose to participate face-to-face, online or in any combination at any time during the semester.

Mode neutral is different than "blended" or even "HyFlex" course design (Educause, 2010). The Sloan Consortium defines blended as a course that has between 30 and 70 percent of the content delivered online (Watson, 2008). Below 30 percent is considered on ground and above 70 percent is considered online. This definition is a good one for a course in which the instructor defines what may be taken online and what may be taken on ground. But what if the student can choose to participate online or on ground as they wish? The percent of the course delivered online then depends on the behavior of the student at any given point during the semester. Mode neutral education is the next logical step in the evolution of "online" education. It is, in essence, the step that removes the wall between online and on ground class participation. In what has been called "the convergence of online and face-to-face communication" (Watson, 2008), technology and teaching capabilities are in many places erasing the distinction between on ground and online. This evolution is both a technological push and a student pull.

While it may be argued that mode-neutral delivery is simply another form of blended education, perhaps the same as HyFlex, beyond delivery mode there are philosophical differences with these options that also separate mode neutral from much of our existing teaching practice. This will be considered as we further explore mode-neutral.


New technology and connectivity make real-time as well as asynchronous contact and collaboration relatively commonplace. Texting, Skype and all the versions of chat now available blur the boundaries between face-to-face and online with their ease of use and immediacy. While many have focused on the loss of the intimate face-to-face experience in the online experience, this perhaps undervalues the ability of the technology to enhance the classroom and enrich levels of communication. …

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