Summer School Thoughts

School ended yesterday and for the second summer in a row, I find myself dissatisfied with the online course experience. Distance learning is increasingly an option for people and just about every school and university has course offerings, but I keep wondering if anyone has found the right formula so the student gets as much out of the experience as if they were in the classroom.

I took two classes simultaneously: American Government and Social Problems, both requirements for my eventual hoped-for cross-certification to teach English and Social Studies. The first required us to research and post answers to 4-5 questions on the message board twice a week while reading his posted lecture notes, some articles, and the occasional chapter of the text book. The latter had us read two chapters a week and then respond to two questions on the message board, requiring us to interact with our fellow classmates a minimum of three times per question.

As for assessing our performance, in addition to the message board posts, American Government had two four-hour tests, with more detailed questions requiring us to read through the notes and go online to find sources to back up our answers. The Sociology course had three multiple choice quizzes that basically meant making sure you had the text book open to find the answers.

Note, in neither case did the professor interact with the students. In the American Government course, he would send out the occasional email directing us to something or in once case giving me a chance to elaborate on one of my replies (being in San Diego, I politely declined).  The other course, the professor was largely silent and made himself superfluous to the course experience.

While I liked interacting with my Sociology peers, you could tell some were forcing their replies just to make quota and here’s where our professor could have stepped in and directed the conversation so things headed off into interesting directions. Instead, by the third rely they were down to variations of “I liked you  post and you made great connections.” Not inspiring stuff. At least that’s better than the other course where we posted our hundreds or thousands of words of commentary and no one agreed or disagreed with you, nor did the professor comment. In cases where I got 9.3 out of 10, I never knew where I faltered or how to do better so I was entirely dependent on my motivation and sense of self-worth to maintain the same level of effort.

Kate’s taken online courses and had many of the same complaints, notably the lack of teacher interaction.

It might have been nice to schedule a few conversation times where we could set up webcams or chat rooms and get into the topic of the week with the professor, or have video components to supplement the written material. I don’t necessarily have the answer but I know after four of these experiences there has to be a better way.

While my grades will indicate I excelled, I don’t necessarily feel as if I learned anything new or got my money’s worth.


  • Alexandra

    This is why I have not agreed to teach any of these courses, even though they pay better than classroom teaching, often! It makes you have to write out your lectures word-for-word (killing spontaneity and interaction — the jewels of learning), which is pretty much like writing a book (can’t pay enough for that…and then the school owns your work, too!…a big rights issue, there) and then you have little time left for being interactive unless the course is going to be more trouble than it’s worth, by far, for the instructor. Hence the lack of interaction factor, I’m sure. David had complained of the same things in the 2 undergrad courses and one grad non-matriculated he’d taken on-line at New School, though the Jewish Theological Seminary one he’d said was better…but it’d always be the same and more evident on-line — a handful of students’d do the heavy lifting and the rest’d be silent or atta-boy…but the facilitator of the JTS course was more present. So it does, indeed, seem to be an overall problem with on-line courses — lack of instructor interaction = less learning. I can’t take seriously whole degrees earned on-line, due to this. Basically self-taught and under-supervised. Not enough growth…just get the min. done, get the document, get out and try to find a job. It’s all about being cash cows for the schools…that’s the thing of on-line courses. Corp. types in admin. figuring out ways to maximize profits. Give the people what they think they need and what they say they want. But in education there are, in some ways, no conveniences, no short-cuts. Sometimes old-fashioned is truly the best.

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