|2011-09-05||Steve Gardiner||Online Education: Doubting no more|
Having been a teacher in a traditional classroom for over 30 years, I was skeptical when I heard about online education and listened with doubt as professional development speakers explained that it is the wave of the future. Within five years, we will be delivering half of our high school classes online, they said. Online education and blended learning will become the new standard.
I had doubts.
I decided I had to try it. I signed up for an online class and it did not take long to realize what the benefits are. We had weekly modules to complete, and as long as the assignment was posted by Sunday night, no problem. This meant that if I came home from school late and tired on Tuesday, I could give myself the evening off. I could tackle it on Wednesday instead.
I remembered working on classes for my master's degree at a local university. If class was held on Tuesday night, I was there whether I felt up to it or not. The schedule could not change for family problems, hard days at work, or anything else.
That change seemed convenient enough, but after the class was rolling, I realized the biggest advantage of online education. Asynchronous discussion. I could remember times in the master's program when a discussion started moving quickly. I may have had something to say, but by the time I could get my thoughts formulated, or just get a chance to speak my turn, the conversation may have moved on to a different subject. To go back would have seemed ill-mannered, if not embarrassing. With the online discussion, I could read the material, think about it, make my initial post, and check in later to see what others had said. I could read their comments, respond if I chose, or take a walk to think about what I wanted to say. I might even do some research to make sure my response was solid, or I could go back up through the threads and post to a comment made even days earlier. Since everyone in the discussion had access to all the comments from the week, the timing didn't matter and each comment was dated so the new additions could easily be spotted.
I also worried about not having face-to-face contact with classmates. I soon realized that relationships form and personalities exist in a cyber classroom just as they do in a traditional classroom, and I quickly forgot about that. Any hesitation I had about navigating an online environment disappeared by the second week of class.
My doubts about online education vanished. This method has some very definite advantages regarding convenience, ease of meeting deadlines, facilitating meaningful discussions, and accessing resources that can be stored for use at any time. I can also see, for rural states like mine, many advantages in being able to share materials and instructors and span distances that have been barriers to improvements in the past. Online education is where we are going, and I am glad that now I feel part of the movement and have accepted the format. Did I mention that I thought it was fun?