Yet Another Pro/Con List

In “A Teacher’s Take on Online Education,” Jeff Kolnick writes about the endlessly discussed topic of Whether or Not Online Classes Are Okay. Here’s a summary:

PROS

  • “improve written communication skills, especially when faculty are vigilant”
  • “widen opportunities for shy students to get involved in class discussion”
  • “cuts geographic barriers”

CONS

  • “super high attrition rates”
  • “faculty have a hard time getting to know students”
  • “ill suited to entry level classes and remedial level work”

I agree with…pretty much all of this. I am not this teacher:

Being a deconstructionist at heart, I also think that course design can shift all three pros into cons: ask for virtually no writing and just give multiple-choice tests, don’t require discussions, and build assignments in such a way that those who aren’t in a certain physical location struggle to keep up. This is the kind of online education that professors, parents, and legislators might fear, since it doesn’t foster much critical thinking.

I also could see how all three cons could be ameliorated: give students multiple chances on assignments or very open due dates to cut down on drop-outs, create assignments that ask students to share their goals and stories (and have professors complete the same work / sharing) and offer Skype office hours for virtual f2f conferencing, and make everything for an introductory class very, very transparent and sequential. Videos help. Sample work helps.

I believe that self-paced remedial online courses can help motivated students move much more quickly through a class sequence. Imagine taking only 5 weeks to finish pre-algebra — many just need a little time to refresh their memories and prove mastery of the content. Even better, what if students could complete up to three developmental courses in a regular long semester? It would require commitment, but those learners could move into college-level coursework after one term rather than three.

To recap…

Thoughtful course design = crucial for online education.

Nope, it’s not deep.

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