The other day on the ferry, I was talking to Kayla about her classes. Kayla is a young woman I’ve watched grow up here on Vinalhaven. She’s a “traditional student” meaning she went to college right out of high school. Come spring and she’ll graduate from UMaine Farmington with a degree in education. Only Kayla is kind of a non-traditional traditional student, since she’s completing her full 4-year course load in just 3 years (!).
How’d she manage that?
You guessed it. Online classes.
Kayla started her college career with several credits under her belt that she earned while she was a senior in high school. But for the rest she took classes during her summer and Christmas breaks…and she took them online.
I was eager to know what she thinks of online learning. Some people think of web-based classes as a means to an end: merely as a convenient alternative to live classes, with the emphasis on convenient. But Kayla likes online classes a lot. In fact, several of the live classes she’s taken also have an online discussion component as part of the coursework. She feels that the live class discussions tend to be brief compared to online discussions, which she says are much more in depth.
And this has been my experience at UMA, too. In live classes, you tend to hear from a core group of (outspoken) people. But the corollary to this is that you don’t hear as much from the quieter, more introverted folks who might be more hesitant to add to the discussion.
In all the online classes I’ve taken, participation in the discussion forums is required. Everyone takes part – the shy or tentative students are on equal footing with the more outgoing classmates. This means the discussion forums are truly inclusive. They represent the view of all the students in the class. Let’s face it…there simply isn’t enough time in a live class to hear something meaty and significant from every single student, every single week.
Which reminds me of another benefit of online discussion. There is a difference between written and spoken comments. I feel like writing helps me organize my thoughts, especially when I’m thinking about complex topics like the critical theories I’m learning about in my Literary Criticism class. As I’m writing a discussion post, I’m sorting it out, quoting from the text, analyzing what I’ve read. Maybe some students can do this off the cuff in a classroom, but I can’t. Written discussion is more well thought out, more considered, and more substantial. At least that’s been my experience.
So I was glad to hear the same thing from Kayla. Even traditional classrooms are leaning on web-based education as part of their course offerings. It extends the discussion beyond the four walls and the weekly time slot that we call the college classroom. Works for trads and nontrads alike!