The more things change, the more they change

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m a big advocate for distance learning. I’m embracing the technologies my school, University of Maine at Augusta, offers. Online classes, videoconference classes, ITV classes – these are the options that are allowing me to get my degree.

I’m a particular fan of online learning, simply because the format – when it’s done right – works well for me. I like to write and I enjoy most of the online discussions in my classes.  I think students tend to be more thorough when they write than when they speak; that’s certainly the case for me. More, I really do believe online class discussions are more inclusive – Deb Meehan, Director at URock uses the term “democratic” and that’s a fantastic way to think about it. Simply put, you get the chance to hear from all the students, not just the more outspoken ones.

I recognize that online classes aren’t necessarily “better” than live classes. For one thing, you miss out on the immediacy of a face-to-face discussion since most web-based classes are asynchronous. But I’m always curious to hear from or read about people who say/claim/swear that live classes are better than their online counterparts.

My working theory is that we cleave to what we know. People who have gone through a traditional university education see the value and importance in the live, face-to-face experience based largely on interaction with the professor. Those whose educations include less conventional learning methods see the value and importance in the flexibility of the online experience.

Wherever you stand, things are changing, people. And these changes are largely student-driven. Check out this rather provocative article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Noncourses? I love it. I like how students in Mr. Campbell’s otherwise traditional media studies class use individual blogs to express their ideas and reflect on their learning. This reminds me of what I called the Transcontinental Education CollaborationUMA’s partnership with University of Alaska Fairbanks. The instructional designers from UAF shared some of the student blogs created in their classes. These were beautiful and thorough; tangible products of learning that many students kept going even after class was over.

UnCollege? This guy –a student – wants to create a fee-based social network that gives student access to willing mentors in order to bypass the traditional classroom. Mr. Stephens, the 19-year-old man-with-a-plan, was home-schooled and is therefore used to looking outside the classroom for learning. (You can read more about him here)

Who knows where this is headed? There are all kinds of options, all kinds of methodologies, all kinds of hybrids coming down the pike. Bring ‘em, I say.

But I’ve got to take issue with one student’s assessment. I think Mr. Somade is a wee bit insensitive in saying, “there’s not really much need for teachers anymore.” I continue to think of the teacher as the bridge to learning, not the guardian of knowledge, whether that teacher is standing in front of me or teaching online. Teachers are necessary.

When he claims, “There is definitely a broader array of options available to students who wish to forgo the commute to class altogether in exchange for online classes that essentially provide the same content that professors regurgitate to students in lecture” – well that’s just harsh, unjust even. It undermines the teacher’s role, and frankly, gives online courses the wrong image, too.

So. Students want meaningful learning and engagement. That’s nothing new. What’s different is that there are so many more technologies available now that allow students to pursue – and demand – learning in a new way. The ongoing discussion seems to be: how is ideology and pedagogy keeping up?

(and even this is obsolete by now!)

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4 Responses to The more things change, the more they change

  1. Thanks for pointing me to the Chronicle article. I had missed that one.

  2. For this associates degree I’m finishing I did a combination- any class I could take online I did- saved me an hour and a half travel (each way)- therefore saving me money! All of the courses pertaining to occupational therapy itself did not have an online option. Having been able to do both sort of classes I definitely see the benefits of either one. I loved online courses. I’m a hermit and I can be introverted. It was nice to be in the comfort of my own home and be able to express myself with the articulation I wanted to- rather than the stuttering/tripping over my words that may ensue in a “real life” situation.

    But I really loved my “live” classes too. And those classes, I think, brought me out of that shell to the point that this year when we took the Meyers-Briggs most people were surprised to find out I was an introvert.

    Online courses are a lifesaver for adults going back to school. You can make your schedule around your job, around your children, around life. I am so thankful for that option!

    • leenthebean says:

      Hi Heather, I’m with you – there are great benefits to both online and live classes. We’re lucky we have the option to take both kids of classes. You bring up a good point about live classes helping us more introverted people to speak up. It’s good to challenge those shyness muscles, right? Congratulations on getting near the end of your schooling. Such a commitment on your part!

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