One should probably never publish a blog on a Friday afternoon, but i’ll be pushing out three posts next week, so here’s my chance to rant before the weekend.
Ok, so it took me a month to find the NY Times Op-Ed, “The Trouble with Online Education”, and while I’m sure many of my fellow eLearning conspirators have addressed the editorial’s flaws, I’d like to share my view.
The contributor, Mark Edmundson, is a college professor who thinks deeply about what it takes to conduct a great face-to-face college course and he writes sincerely about understanding the group of students that are in front of him so that he can take them from where they are to where he’d like them to be intellectually. He speaks to the importance of dialogue, varied assessments, and reading his audience so that he can adjust his course on the fly. All traits of a great teacher.
Mark believes, though, that online education is “one size fits all.” I must say that college courses could be the same: boring lectures that haven’t been updated in years; assessments limited to multiple choice tests that are easy to grade; and impersonal. College courses and professors come in all flavors.
So do online courses. You can look at the world of online learning and see specific courses that fit Mark’s description: boring lectures; little or no opportunities for formal or informal discussions; teaching and learning activities that rarely go beyond knowledge and comprehension; limited assessment types; and the inability of the course, because of its construction, to understand where students are starting. Just as there are terrible college professors and courses, there are poor online courses.
It doesn’t have to be, though. Memorable online courses can provide a collaborative space for teachers and students. Great online courses and the learning management systems that contain them can offer a variety of discussion areas; offer rich curriculum and multimedia with links to extension activities; and they can be singular when students need to learn or study on their own or they can provide frequent meeting opportunities “live” or asynchronous in nature. Great face-to-face learning activities can be transported online so that students are challenged to evaluate, analyze, and create. Or not. Online courses come in many flavors.
Mark ends his Op-Ed by saying, “Internet learning promises to make intellectual life more sterile and abstract than it already is — and also, for teachers and for students alike, far more lonely.” I know. I’ve taken lots of face-to-face college courses where I felt alone in a room of 300.
Great face-to-face courses, and great online courses, are made, not born.