Thursday, July 19, 2012
The New York Times has summarized the problem with online education with this subheadline: "Internet courses are monologues. True learning is a dialogue." It's attached to an op-ed piece by Mark Edmundson, a University of Virginia English Professor.
"With every class we teach, we need to learn who the people in front of us are. We need to know where they are intellectually, who they are as people and what we can do to help them grow. Teaching, even when you have a group of a hundred students on hand, is a matter of dialogue."
He continues, "Every memorable class is a bit like a jazz composition. There is the basic melody that you work with. It is defined by the syllabus. But there is also a considerable measure of improvisation against that disciplining background."
He notes that "Online education is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It tends to be a monologue and not a real dialogue. The Internet teacher, even one who responds to students via e-mail, can never have the immediacy of contact that the teacher on the scene can, with his sensitivity to unspoken moods and enthusiasms. This is particularly true of online courses for which the lectures are already filmed and in the can. It doesn’t matter who is sitting out there on the Internet watching; the course is what it is."
"A truly memorable college class, even a large one, is a collaboration between teacher and students. It’s a one-time-only event. Learning at its best is a collective enterprise, something we’ve known since Socrates. You can get knowledge from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning. A real course creates intellectual joy, at least in some. I don’t think an Internet course ever will. Internet learning promises to make intellectual life more sterile and abstract than it already is — and also, for teachers and for students alike, far more lonely."
I agree with Professor Edmundson. A major part of teaching is the interaction between student and teacher. Teachers must be aware of what is going on in the class and change their approach as needed. They must motivate their students and help them reflect on what they are learning. Lecture is not enough; class discussions and exercises are vital to learning. In sum, online teaching goes against everything that modern education theory tells us.