Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On-Line Learning: We're In Trouble

Back in 1995 when I entered the glorious world of college, there was no Internet.  There was no Amazon for book deals.  No one read anything electronically.  We all ordered huge stacks of dusty books from the library, making the library the hub of social connection.  No cell phones.  No e-mail.  I used my pocket calendar to keep track of all my deadlines and important social events.  I have no regrets. 

I remember when the Internet was unveiled.  I didn't really even get it.  We all got Foxmail accounts and we'd all go into the basement of the GFU library and chat with each other...yep, with all the other 20 people who happened to be sitting down in that windowless haven.  You'd send something witty to the guy sitting in the far corner and you'd look up to see his shoulder shake with laughter and wait for his comeback.  He'd push send and then stop and look up to see you read it with your own eyes.  A few users had Internet access in their rooms; we all thought they were weird for spending so much time in their rooms on their computers.  What an isolating concept.

Well, I'm back on campus...or not really.  For my current career, I'm required to pursued some collegiate professional development.  So, I'm taking an on-line class.  I was very excited to do this because I didn't want to be bothered with driving to class every week.  It fits with my busy-adult-life.  And I'd say I am learning content.  But when I compare it with my traditional undergrad experience, it really isn't the same and should not be viewed as such.

I find myself not asking my professor any clarifying questions, even though there are plenty I could ask.  I'm not even sure how many of us are in the class.  We were all supposed to introduce ourselves at the beginning, and after reading about five intros I lost interest.  They all started blending together and seeming a bit meaningless...I mean, I'm not actually going to be in relationship with these virtual classmates.  (FYI:  We take timed tests on-line.  Each time I take the test I find mistakes in the questions and there are usually a few multiple choice questions that have at least two possible answers, but I never bring this to my professor's attention because what does it really matter. We don't have a real working relationship.)

We read PowerPoint lectures on-line.  We take part in required class discussions.  Each week we are supposed to respond to our professor's question and then we have to make one comment off of someone's original post.  After week three I have found these responses fairly uninspiring.  Each person basically rewords a paragraph in our book just enough so they won't be accused of plagiarism.  I finally decided to shake things up a bit and make the most out of the class.  I put my soul into a discussion question.  My husband finally piped up, "Are you writing a blog post?"

"Ha!  Basically.  I'm just trying to write something interesting that others might enjoy."  Don't worry, I got the required regurgitated information in there.

No one has responded to my post, probably because it ended up being 10 paragraphs long and not a simple paragraph they could skim and write a thoughtless response comment .  And they probably all find this Rebekah Schneiter who's profile pictures is a yellow smile, really annoying and over-the-top.  I'd probably find myself annoying too.

I just got done reading a memoir called, "The Year of Learning Dangerously," which is about a mom who decides to homeschool her daughter without a real concrete plan, and finally ends up contracting her child's education out between a math tutor, French tutor, and on-line school.  She writes about the on-line experience in glowing terms and how connected her daughter feels chatting with all her virtual classmates.  I have to admit I wanted to gage a bit.

Guess what...it isn't real.  It doesn't even compare.  Something huge is lost in this style of learning.  Maybe you don't know what is lost if you've never experienced the real deal.  Or maybe I just went to an incredible college..that could be it.  :)

I connected with most all of my professors. I felt like I mattered and that they had a real interest in my success.  I got to know my classmates and cared about what they shared in class.  I didn't agree with a lot of what I encountered when I first entered college, but this was part of the process of growing and changing.  These were real relationships and because they were real and mattered their opinions mattered and I listened, evaluated, assessed my own beliefs and changed mine when I realized my ideas weren't really true or relevant to who I was becoming.

None of this would have happened on-line.

Oh its been convenient during this stage of life, but the whole movement toward on-line-learning makes me sad.  I'm glad my boys sit in classrooms with other kids and learn in relationship.  I hope that one day they move out of my house and into a dorm, and that they have to set their alarms and walk to an actual classroom.  These things are fairly essential in my opinion.


Melanie Springer Mock said...

I'm teaching a hybrid course for WRIT 110 this year (part in class, part online) and I think it works well. The students do a lot more writing, but some of the stuff you talk about--the anonymity, the lack of face-to-face time, the thoughtless responses to readings--don't happen as often. I still get bad research essays, but also some really good stuff happens online. Teaching a totally online course, though: that would be miserable.

Rebekah said...

Yes, I think it would help if we saw each other like three times throughout the term. That said, I am actually glad I can do it all from my computer. My sister-in-law took like 30 to 40 percent of her undergrad online and she did agree with me about the overall experience.

Plus, knowing how Fox is, I bet your students actually know each other from campus and other classes, right?

Jen Rouse said...

I know from Eric's experience with his current online degree that he certainly isn't getting the kind of bonding, hands-on experience, and friendships with classmates he built at OSU in his traditional degree. That said, although he interacted with his professors at OSU it was nothing like the constant small-group in-depth discussions I got at Linfield simply because of the class size at a large state school. Many classes were taught by TAs, etc.

Also, the degree he is getting now he would not be completing at all, if it weren't an online option. He doesn't have time in his life to go to classes in person, but he can do it in the evenings from home. The online component is what makes it possible at all.

In the book, I actually identified more strongly with the vision Cummings presents for the future of school in that final chapter, than I did with any other chapter in the book. I could never see myself homeschooling my kids, but just knowing what I already know now about the options for college classes and online learning that are currently present in our school district, I could see my kids in high school taking some classes at school and others for credit at a community college and perhaps supplementing with some online classes if what they are interested in isn't offered in-district. That seems both do-able and beneficial.

I don't think I'd want to be educated entirely online, but as part of an array of education options, it really makes sense.

(Also organizations like Udacity and Khan Academy and even bricks-and-mortar colleges like MIT and Berkely are offering so many courses online and free that it's really changing the way people think about learning, in my opinion. I think it will be interesting to see how things change over the next generation).

Jo said...

Hmmm. I think I can relate. In my profession I'm required to obtain a certain number of continuing education credits semiannually. Out of convenience and low cost, I occasionally opt to just complete these online. But I will fork over LOADS of cash just to be in a classroom/seminar on occasion. And I find those experiences to be very refreshing - not to mention I can sort of do a mini spa by staying in a hotel room withoout the usual domestic responsibilities. I highly recommend it. ;) (BTW do you remember when I was on FB, I had a particularly annoying friend who had a smiley face, but his had a bleeding bullet wound to the forehead? Yeah, I figured most of my other friends got perturbed at his pontification. Maybe you can change your pic to your own sunny smile.)

Rebekah said...

I changed my smile pic to my actual face! Now let the connections begin. Jo, I do not remember that FB friend at all...was it so tramatic that I blocked it? :)

Rebekah said...

Jen, I can't wait to discuss more at our book group! I always value your ideas and since I love face to face...should be fantastic!