Monday, February 14, 2011

What to Do With Online Teaching, Part I

Online teaching sucks. It tries to offer a very poor substitute to traditional teaching formats and fails spectacularly. The students are catching on to this sad reality. Dropout rates in online courses are significantly higher than in traditional classes. The students overwhelmingly respond that the reason they drop out of online classes that initially had them respond very enthusiastically is that they feel lonely, confused and abandoned to struggle in isolation (I have just done a massive research on this issue, so if anybody wants a bibliography, I can provide one.)

The main reason why online courses the way they are right now are such a complete waste of time for students and teachers alike is that many people believe that the same kind of materials, exercises, lectures, PowerPoints, tests, etc. that they use in classroom teaching can just be dumped on Blackboard and that will make a good online course. It doesn't. A format that is completely different requires approaches and techniques that are entirely new as well. 

Whether we like it or not (I, for one, most definitely do not), the future of education belongs to the Internet. (So does the future of white-collar professions, and only the employers who are willing to recognize it will come out winning in the end.) People organize their lives very differently now. They expect the Internet to bridge physical distances for them in all areas of their lives: work, friendships, fun, romantic relationships, and, of course, study. Higher education is also becoming less of a privilege enjoyed by a lucky few who can afford to move to a dorm for several years and stay there with no concern for making their living or helping out their families. 

The way online teaching is handled right now is profoundly faulty, though. Educators who try to develop online courses are pushed by their administrators in the direction of simply moving everything they do in the classroom online. In my grant proposal for a blended course (the kind where part of teaching is done online and part in the traditional classroom), I stated that dumping a bunch of PowerPoints on Blackboard cannot be expected to work. "Why not??" was the immediate response I got to this statement. The reason why not is that you can't move to another country and expect to do everything the way you are used to. This is a different country we are moving to and we will not be able to do everything exactly the same and expect to succeed.


Patrick said...

So - it's not necessarily online courses that you detest, but the manner in which they've been implemented - at least, that's what I infer from your post.

Which I would have to agree with. If institutions simply 'dump' it online, rather than actually designing a course, then I would agree that it is doomed to fail. (Failing to plan is planning to fail - old but accurate business axiom.)

I think there is something to be said for the various personalities of those who should/would take online courses. I don't have to go outside my own home to see the difference. My wife would be one of those people who would almost certainly fail at an online course, regardless of it's design. She is an extreme extrovert - her energy comes from being involved in a community. I, on the other hand, am extremely introverted. All my motivation and drive comes from within. I can be alone for weeks, and never feel isolated. My wife wouldn't last a day.

I think your right - the demand for online courses is only going to grow. It is incumbent on the administration and professors to ensure that they design course delivery that is of a high quality. And that may necessarily mean that some course content simply isn't suitable for online consumption.

You, as a professor, should never agree to teach something that you don't believe is of acceptable quality. It's your reputation that is at stake.

Clarissa said...

Online teaching will not only happen. It will also keep growing. The way it is done right now - at least what I have discovered in my research on the subject is simply not good. As I said, it's daylight robbery of students, in my opinion.

As you say, the personality of the student is important. Online teaching can be very good for autistic students, for example. The personality of the teacher, however, is crucial too. It has to be the kind of personality that translates well into the online format. I think mine does, as we can see from this blog. :-) There are so many things that need to be taken into consideration. This process can neither be rushed nor skipped.

sarcozona said...

I've had really good experiences learning online from Khan Academy. The format is very simple, but clear and engaging. I think the administrators who tell profs how to design online courses could learn a lot from the way Khan Academy does things.