The New York Times
Learning in Classrooms Versus Online
July 25, 2012
In “The Trouble With Online Education ” (Op-Ed, July 20), Mark Edmundson captures the inadequacy of online courses from the teacher’s perspective, and I can corroborate from the student’s.
I was a math-obsessive in high school. To supplement my school’s curriculum, I turned to a Stanford program offering online courses to gifted youth. I started the program with enthusiasm, but I soon felt alone and unsupported. I had no one to impress or disappoint. I struggled to stay motivated. It was impersonal and transactional, and it nearly destroyed my obsession.
A face-to-face meeting in a classroom imposes accountability, inspires effort and promotes academic responsibility in subtle ways that we don’t fully appreciate. On a campus, students attend class and stay alert because they worry what the teacher will think if they don’t.
Once they’re in the classroom, the battle is mostly won. As in life, 80 percent of education is showing up, in person.
ADAM D. CHANDLER
Burlington, N.C. July 20, 2012
The writer is a Rhodes Scholar and 2011 graduate of Yale Law School.
Learning online is, of course, not the same as learning face to face, and that is likely good news for anyone who can recall an hour lost listening to an interminable lecture in an overheated classroom.
Good courses, whether on campus or online, are engaging and foster active learning communities. In the best online courses, learners connect, collaborate, inspire, discover and create through myriad technologies.
Coursera, just one example of online learning opportunities, touts active learning as one of its pedagogical foundations. It’s too early to know if Coursera will be successful, but I’ve enrolled in two upcoming courses because amid this grand experiment, I might just find the pure intellectual joy that can be found in a vital learning community.
Baltimore, July 20, 2012
The writer is an instructional designer for Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, which is offering courses through Coursera.
I couldn’t agree more with “The Trouble With Online Education.” When I went to college, my parents agreed that I should stay in the dormitories, far away from home. The reasoning was that the college environment would be inspiring and focused and would enable me to get help from my peers (and instructors) whenever I needed it.
Many years later, as a professor, I have found that there is no better way to inspire and motivate my students than in the classroom. The multidimensional world of questions, extemporaneous answers, spur-of-the-moment thinking, blackboard problem-solving and shared excitement in learning about how the world works will never be replaced by the one-dimensional world of online learning.
Las Vegas, July 20, 2012
The writer is an associate professor of physics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
I have been teaching online since 1998, and my online courses look nothing like those Mark Edmundson describes. The online classes at my college involve an average of 25 students. The vast majority of my students contribute to discussions online, not just the few brave enough to speak up in a traditional class. The lack of spatial proximity gives more students the “courage” to engage me directly. As a result, I carry on numerous conversations with individual students via e-mail over the course of a semester.
Online courses offer students the ability to add courses when those at desired times are closed or to accommodate work schedules. They allow colleges to offer more needed sections of courses despite space limitations.
So please, let’s not evaluate all online education based on the example of those at a handful of large universities.
Richmond, Va. July 23, 2012
The writer teaches English and religion at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.
Mark Edmundson is right to point out the pedagogical limitations of online education, particularly in the case of undergraduate students. Equally troubling, however, is the threat that elite, resource-rich consortiums pose to the hundreds of small, private colleges across the land.
Facing a host of challenges, ranging from tiny endowments to shrinking enrollments, such colleges and universities are the pride of their communities.
It would be a sad day if they are driven out of business by corporate titans in distant towers of privilege. Much as in the world of retail, students may have access to cheaper courses online, but neither the students nor our nation would ultimately be the richer for it.
Portland, Me. July 20, 2012
The writer is associate provost for global initiatives at the University of New England in Maine.
The trouble with a regular college education is that it costs too much. Students are saddled with debts they will spend half their lives repaying.
I agree, there is no substitute for the interactive classroom. However, until the issue of runaway costs for higher education is addressed, students from poor and middle-class families, intent on getting a college education, will increasingly gravitate to these free, accredited Internet courses.
Manchester, N.H. July 20, 2012
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