Apparently, last week the whole live class/online class debate was on the front page of The New York Times. Check it out here. As of this moment, the article has 173 comments, but here are a few letters of response from the Opinion Pages.
Some of the online classes described just aren’t the kinds of online classes I’ve ever taken. 1500 students in a class? My classes have had more like 20-30. No wonder those people feel like it’s an impersonal experience. And live streaming of lectures? Mine have been recorded or written. Makes so much sense to do it this way, since one of the great benefits of online education, for both professors and students, is that it’s asynchronous. You don’t have to “go to class,” or to your computer, at a specific designated time.
One opinion letter writer talks about the opportunity for cheating, saying one way to do this is to have someone else take the course for you. Seriously? I can’t imagine convincing someone to put that kind of time in on my behalf. But she brings up a good point about being able to look up answers during tests. I’ve only taken one class that had an online test, so I can’t speak to that. Most of my “testing” comes in the form of writing papers to prove understanding. That’s what we English majors do – we write papers. This kind of assessment is a natural fit for online learning. I don’t know how other kinds of classes and testing would work online, but I’d love to hear more from those of you who have traveled that road.
Another writer seems to lump online learning with online communication and students’ reliance on “electronic gadgetry.” I’ve mentioned before that I haven’t yet boarded the Facebook train. But is this guy’s assessment fair? Shallow communication? Shallow learning? I just don’t think so. Modes of communication evolve, and so do modes of delivering education.
Same guy says the impetus for offering online classes is mostly economic, and not because online classes are “superior to traditional in-person classes.” I guess my gripe is that some people (maybe this guy, too) assert that online classes are, in fact, inferior to live classes. I see them more as parallel, not better, not worse. Both modes serve their purposes, and most of those purposes are the same. How long before online learning stops being the ugly step-sister in higher education?
One final rebuttal. The letter writer from Oregon says, “Perhaps Internet courses can deliver instruction, but I wonder if they can provide the genuine inspiration and insight that a truly good teacher offers.” Excuse me, but the internet may deliver the instruction, but the instruction still comes from a teacher. And yes, there are some “truly good teachers” who are designing classes that instruct and inspire and they are doing it via online classes. A good teacher is a good teacher. No computer screen is going to get in the way of that.
OK, folks. Rant over.