The Discreet Charm of Online Learning, Part II

Another great thing about the online course is the quality of questions that I get. I’ve been teaching this Hispanic Civilization course for 3 years, and only now am I finally getting the questions that I always wanted to be asked.

The way it works is that students watch the lecture videos and then take their time assimilating the information. Several hours (or sometimes days) later, they realize that there is something about the readings from the textbook or the lecture that is not entirely clear. Since the discussion thread is open in a very welcoming way, they feel free to offer their question or comment.

In a regular course, this rarely happens. There aren’t many 18-year-olds who are prepared to interrupt the lecture and say, in front of a roomful of strangers, “There is something you said 3 lectures ago that I didn’t quite understand.” Would you be able to do that? Now consider how much easier it is for you to post a comment on a blog thread that started a few days ago. See the difference?

There is another interesting phenomenon at play here that makes online exchanges produce valuable insights. For many people, online communications are a way of being more authentic than they normally are in any other format. The students seem somehow more open and sincere in the online discussions than I can get them to be in a face-to-face format of a large classroom. An online discussion feels a lot more intimate and personal than a regular course.

Of course, all of this – the active participation, the openness, the great discussions, the feeling of intimacy – could be achieved in a face-to-face classroom if I were allowed to teach smaller, seminar-type courses instead of huge lecture classes. However, our administrators are driven by enrollment figures. Whenever a class has 10 students enrolled, we start getting persecuted and martyred for that. Really, I’m not exaggerating. Even our language courses are capped at 25 students, which is way too much for a successful language course. Money-hungry administrators who need to rob both the professors and the students in order to increase their own humongous salaries do all they can to undermine learning by stuffing as many students as possible into a classroom.

Since the appetites of greedy administrators who needs their mansions and huge cars are not about to abate, I believe that the future of higher education lies in a mix of face-to-face and online courses.

4 thoughts on “The Discreet Charm of Online Learning, Part II

  1. >> “There is something you said 3 lectures ago that I didn’t quite understand.”

    The flip side of that is that, because our forum is anonymous, students feel free to ask the silliest question** which they themselves would be able to figure out if they spent five seconds thinking.

    ** silly as in “What color is the white horse of Napoleon Bonaparte?”

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    1. That’s true, as well. But I’d rather they asked the silly questions rather than get completely muddled and confused. I prefer to be asked “Is Africa a country in Latin America?” during the semester rather than see it stated in the final exam!

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  2. I love this! You have described my exact impressions of the one online class I took a few years ago…I thought it was awesome, pretty much for the reasons you’ve described. As an introverted type, I find in “live” classroom situations my natural state is about 15 seconds behind everyone else; I can’t just say something immediately and have it come out the way I mean to. So when a professor asks for discussion, I’m almost invariably the one who would have spoken if we had another 5 seconds to let someone else speak. In my online class, I could say what I needed to.

    I also love that you recognize that genuine authenticity can come online. I get so sick of people whining about “the internet isn’t a REAL connection between people…”

    I hope to read more about this course as it goes!!

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    1. “I also love that you recognize that genuine authenticity can come online. I get so sick of people whining about “the internet isn’t a REAL connection between people…””

      – It would be weird if I, a blogger, said that. 🙂 But I know what you mean!

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