Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ~C.P. Snow, New York Times, 15 March 1971

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Education Revolution: Online Education

Image from MBA for Better Future
Since earliest university-like schools were founded by the Roman Catholic Church in the 600s, education has been identified with a classroom setting.  Students go to a building or room and a teacher, lecturer, or professor stands up and teaches them.  But in the Information Age and the age of the Internet, this is changing.  Online classes in various forms and at various levels are growing in popularity.  Technology is changing the way learning is done.

For many years now, my father-in-law has been teaching real estate classes online.  He is able to teach far larger classes and still give the students the interaction and attention they need.  These classes have been very successful, and have allowed students at universities that don't offer the subject matter he provides the opportunity to take the classes.

This is just one of the areas that online education is opening up.

Open Courseware

A couple of days ago, I read an article in the Ars Technica blog on my Kindle about "open courseware".

Money flowing into "open courseware" on college campuses

Image from Al Fin blog
The concept is the offering of free classes online for the lower required classes, basically the classes that would be below the 1000 level, at least at the school I went to.  These are the courses that universities presume high schools will provide, but provide the classes for students who either didn't have that opportunity in high school, didn't make it far enough, or for some other reason didn't get the necessary skills needed to enter the "college level" classes.  The first "open courseware" classes being offered are math courses.

One of the things important to me politically is that educational opportunities be available to everyone, not just those that can afford it.  "Open courseware" classes don't just allow for students to take these classes that are needed for other classes they need without it interfering with the other classes they need to take and having to pay for them.  It also provides an opportunity for other people who can't afford classes to take some of these classes to improve their basic skills.  And some schools are offering more advanced classes in this manner.

Online High School

The other day, I say an advertisement on television for Connections Academy, an online high school that anyone in the United States can attend. A brief online search shows that there seems to be a number of high schools and academies offering high school curriculum online.  One I had seen bill boards for down in Colorado is the Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) which actually offers K-12 classes online.

Image from Online High School
Everyone learns in their own way.  Some people can learn easily listening to a lecturer standing in front of them, or from an audio recording of the same (auditory learners).  Some people have to see it (visual learners).  Some people have to do it (tactile learners).  Some people need interaction, discussion, to learn (can I call this type group learners?)  Some people need a combination of these.  There are different models to understand how people learn, but the key here is that not all students learn the same way.  Traditional classrooms are great for some, but not so great for others.

Online classes both allow for a different approach and for a variety of methods in a way that is hard in traditional classrooms.  Technology can aid here (and can help to fill the gaps even in traditional classrooms if .  the teacher is creative in their approach) Video and audio media can be embedded to help visual and auditory learners, and can include clips that would be hard in a traditional classrooms.  Forums, phone conferences, and video chat can be used to provide interaction and discussion, and allow students to ask questions and get feedback both from the teacher and from other students.  Links can be provided to take students to supplementary materials or other interesting sites.  Interactive programs and games can be used to allow students that need to do to have that opportunity.  The possibilities are only limited by the current constraints of technology.  All these things apply equally well to college and university online classes, whether "open courseware" or distance tuition based classes.

The downside of online classes, especially for K-12, is the lack of social, none academic, interaction.  This is the same issue home schooling can have.  Part of what public or private traditional school provides is a setting where there is social interaction.  Though there's negative sides to this like bullying and peer pressure, there are positive sides also.  When the child has grown up and is living her own life, she will have to deal with social interactions.  There are different dynamics within the family than there is with peers.  This is part of what school teaches.  It is easy in this world of television, video games, and the Internet for children to stay in the house and have no interaction outside online interaction.  Online interactions are not the same as in-person interactions, and won't prepare you for them.

Image from Fulham Football Club
The other issue is exercise.  Schools have physical education classes and opportunities for after school sports.  Online, you have no such opportunities.  To be healthy, we need to get exercise and we need to get out and be in fresh air.  This can be an issue with home schooling as well.

Both of these concerns can be overcome.  It is important if a child is going to do their schooling online that the parent(s) make arrangements for social interactions and for exercise.  Most communities have clubs and groups that can provide social interaction.  Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts can be good for this.  Most communities have community sports that aren't part of the school system that anyone can be part of.  I was in community tee ball and basketball when I was a kid, when I wasn't old enough for school sponsored sports.  Home school organizations sometimes have programs for home school kids that kids who are taking classes online could participate in.  Online classes can be a good answer, but parents need to make sure their children get what they need.

Bethany Kennedy
IT Professional

No comments:

Post a Comment