Friday, November 15, 2013
On a regular basis I have a variation of the following conversation. Mr. Smith will ask me about school; what I’m doing, what I’m taking, how is it going. I let Mr. Smith know that I’m working on my master’s for teaching at CMU and it is going well. This leads to raised eyebrows and a confused look from Mr. Smith. “How can you go to CMU? It’s two hours away!” To which I reply, “All my courses are online.”
Of course Mr. Smith has heard of online courses. The concept is in its infancy but well enough advertised that people ‘get it.’ But do they really? Without variation Mr. Smith will reply with a nod because now taking CMU classes makes sense. Wait a beat. The confused look comes back. “What’s that like? How does that work?” Then I spend the next five minutes trying to explain just how my online classes, in general, work.
It’s out there. Online classes are becoming more and more of a ‘thing.’ They are flexible and can fit into a variety of schedules. Yet still we are at a point where society as a whole doesn’t fully understand what an online class is. Are there truly benefits? How exactly does it work? Are online classes true equivalents for their face-to-face counterpoints?
Here is where I’m going to explain why I’m an advocate for it, my mission statement to convince you, the reader, that online classes are important. Distance learning, online schooling, whatever you want to call it, is a great concept not just for me but for many types of students. Using the online systems to deliver classes can reach out to people who may have been unable to achieve degrees because of lifestyle situations. Online lectures can assist students with different learning styles. There’s a lot to put in the plus column of online learning.
My one caveat for online learning, it’s limitation so to speak, is in who the online classes target audience should be. I do not think that across the board you can say online learning is for everyone. When talking about fully online or hybrid classes, the student needs to have the maturity to be able to navigate the Internet themselves. They need to be able to be self-regulating and self-motivated. For a true online class, a class where material must be accessed outside of the classroom walls independently, age has to be a consideration. Older students, preferably seniors on up, benefit much more from online classes than younger ones. Let me tell you why.
I think that distance learning works well for older students.
I believe it is better for older students because there has to be some sense of responsibility. There has to be some driving need for the student to want to do the work, to want to succeed. I think this is true of any learning, but more so of online learning: You only get out of it what you put into it.
Why not younger students? The younger they are, the more supervision they need, especially navigating the potential pitfalls of the Internet. If you have online classes for fourth graders you now have to factor in parent time because parents will most likely have to supervise and/or help with assignments. Younger students will have a more difficult time navigating through LMS delivery systems; while not impossible it could rarely be done alone. And a fourth grader on the Internet will typically be distracted by more ‘interesting’ things; it isn’t often you find one that is overly self-motivated.
This is not to say that you can’t have online assignments or supplemental material for younger students. I think that a truly online or hybrid class is something that takes a level of maturity to understand and take on. Something they need to be able to do mostly on their own.
I think online learning engages more students to participate.
I think it works well for students to have time to think about their answers and therefore become more confident in their thought process by having them answer questions and participate on discussion boards. I think that having videos to watch on their own time makes it more meaningful; they are not forced to go to a lecture at a certain time, they have a choice in when they want to learn the content.
As much as I am a fan on online learning, it is not perfected yet.
As I have taken classes over the last year I have had teachers with varying styles. Some I liked; some I didn’t. This is a process that we, as teachers, are still learning about- teaching classes online. I think if we take a little bit of each of the best practices of previous teachers we can make online learning a huge success. We can't expect to just jump in and know how to teach these courses. Teachers need to do some research into what has failed in the past as well as what has been successful. To teach an effective online class it just takes a little work and a lot of dedication.
I choose to think of this blog more as a mission statement than a manifesto. A mission statement seems more goal oriented to me, something that people can get behind beyond my own personal opinion. I choose to see this project as not only sharing what I think about distance learning but providing sufficient, valid reasoning so that other people feel comfortable taking up the cause. Something that educates you and makes you think. Maybe gives you a different perspective. Something worthwhile.
The next few posts I make will talk about some of the best practices to use when teaching an online course. How important is social presence? What are microlectures and should I use them for teaching my course? Am I a digital native or immigrant? All these posts will go toward supplementing my position above. Online learning, for a majority of students high school and above, is the best way to reach the most students, capture their attention, and have them learn the most they possibly can.