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My Take on College-Level Online Classes

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I am one of the biggest fans of social media and the Internet – I love the opportunities it brings to connect with a wider audience than your current surroundings.  I have written about it before, First Monday how I have met people because of Twitter and I am extremely thankful for the ways it has changed my life.

Today I am writing about a way that it is destructive.  I love school – you’ve noticed I am sure, I love learning; I love the experience of school, the camaraderie with the other students (USC was the best, by far), the atmosphere of the place – well, basically everything.  It is definitely a true and deep love for me.  And when the classes started moving online I was thrilled.  I could take even more classes!  It was awesome. 

Until they loaded the students with so much busy work to compensate for not having class that it shut down the learning process entirely.  No one can keep up with the sheer volume and actually learn anything.  What happened to class discussions and projects that not only demonstrated what you learned, but taught you so much more?  Remember the group projects you hated but always were better for having gone through the process?  Isn’t that the point of education – to make you a different person?  A better person?

I am all for “easy points”, but within reason. Loading up students with an already full schedule with ridiculous assignments is cruel.  Maybe the students will be able to do research, but it doesn’t take more than a couple assignments for that task to be learned, and I haven’t found it to be an actual job requirement for most people, but I have found that being able to speak with others is pretty important.

I know the steep budget cuts in education are to blame for some of these decisions but there are also spiteful teachers who want the online classes to fail so they don’t have to do them anymore, but it’s really the students who suffer.  They have to take these classes to get the degree they desire for the career they want.  If this was my only alternative right now, I don’t think I would have fallen in love with education.  I think I would have quit.  In fact, at that age, I know I would have.  I worked full time all through college – there is no way this volume of work would even be possible.  And this is one class.  A normal workload is at least 4 – 5 classes.  It’s a shame.  People are hungry for good education and interaction. 

Over the past 2 years I have taken 12 online classes.  With a few exceptions they have all been loaded with nonsense assignments to fill the time instead of interactive assignments designed to recreate the classroom experience.  The notable exceptions were some of my computer forensic classes, coincidentally all with the same teacher, who created scenarios we had to figure out to get the class work done.  They were awesome.  It took work from the professor but it fully engaged the class and in the end we walked away with actual hands-on knowledge and experience.  I have to remember to thank him again. 

The Internet is the perfect vehicle to provide quality education, but it is just that, a vehicle, the people who are driving have to care enough to provide the class work that is not a punishment for the users, but an engaging and informative class – just like the classroom experience.  I think it can be done (I have seen it done).  Maybe I will be part of it.  Who knows?  But vocalizing the flaws is the first step to any change don’t you think?

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