27 August 2009

An Obstacle in Online University Education

According to Jennifer Imsande, who teaches at the University of Minnesota at Duluth:
Two-thirds of colleges and universities in the United States now have online courses. Yet most professors write their lectures and discussions as if for a live class, upload lecture notes or video to the Internet and call it a day. Because we want to reproduce on the Web what happens in the classroom.
Imsande claims that online education that is successful in providing realistic learning experiences for students involves much more than mere mimicry of classroom educational experiences. As she sees it, there are four major elements in this educational shift that must take place in online course design and implementation:
  1. Learning objectives must change with the times (and the availability of Read/Write Web technologies--not to mention aiming for future technologies). However, it is also necessary to consider what skills must necessarily develop in a face-to-face setting.
  2. Instructional staff must become adept at the technologies that are developing, not merely including media and online tasks that the staff "techies" have decided to include in the course curriculum.
  3. As societies become centred around other media than print, universities must adapt away from a primary focus on print scholarship, including and even focusing on the entire spectrum of electronic (Internet) media.
  4. A proper shift of successful education from the classroom to online delivery will not save universities money. It is vital to recognise that cost-saving requirements placed upon online delivery of courses seriously hinder staff from designing and delivering the courses and discourage students (since lower-cost equals lower-quality).
In the face of such considerations, it seems obvious that learning in community with others is a major skill that we need to develop in online learners. Some of this learning in community needs to happen in face-to-face settings, but it is also necessary for us to consider how communities that are already vital and ubiquitous online may be steered toward learning that is of university quality.

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