Many thanks to the Oregonian, which ran this editorial opinion today, Oct. 19, 2014, here: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/10/online_classes_can_serve_stude.html
By Kathryn Hubbell
In response to Ramin Farahmandpur’s Oct. 12 “In My Opinion” column, “Online courses shortchange their students,” I would like to defend online learning. I have taught both online and on-campus classes at Marylhurst University for the past six years, and prior to that earned my master’s in communications management from Syracuse University. The Syracuse program involved spending the first week of each term on campus, then finishing up via online learning from home. I was running my public relations firm in Montana at the time; the program meant I did not have to move in order to get the degree I wanted.
The experience at Syracuse was so good that when I came to Oregon and began teaching online classes at Marylhurst, I took those lessons into my virtual classrooms. Here are more of the benefits I’ve found to online classes:
• I frequently get to know my students better online because they’ll tell me things through their student surveys and e-mails that they would not feel comfortable telling me face-to-face.
• Because we teach many older, working adults at Marylhurst, an online class gives them the flexibility to juggle school with families and jobs. For some people, it’s the best and only way to get a college education. These students are driven and dedicated.
• To make online learning more personal, I make small videos about once a week in order to explain something more in-depth, as do other professors on campus. When students can see and hear their instructor, they feel a greater connection to the class.
• I also need to see and hear my students. I may have them produce video introductions of themselves, schedule video conference calls and phone calls or meet them on campus if they are local and need help. It’s always worth the extra effort.
A January 2013 article in The New York Times seems to validate this approach to online learning, saying: “Moreover, there are early indications that the high interactivity and personalized feedback of online education might ultimately offer a learning structure that can’t be matched by the traditional classroom.”
The price of our online classes is not reduced, which makes sense to me. Online teaching and learning both take more time and self-discipline than on-campus teaching and learning. The work can be harder on both sides in order to get the same results.
Farahmandpur wrote, “Collaboration, communication and community service are key to an engaging and relevant college experience.” I agree. Our online students continually talk with each other in discussion boards long after deadline; it’s often hard to keep up. They may collaborate on class projects; in our social media class they also collaborate on the instruction, since no one person has the answer. In addition, each student is assigned to work with a real-life organization in order to learn effective public relations. That’s service learning.
Granted, there are areas where online learning does not work. Music would be one example; certainly there are more. But in this day and age, the effective use of sophisticated technology brings a greater learning experience, both online and on campus. Using technology also prepares our students well when they go into new careers that demand the use of technology.
At a conference workshop in Washington, D.C., last weekend, I listened to Dr. Susan Aldridge, vice-president for online learning at Drexel University, talk about using avatars and simulators in medical school online classes. This is how students learn today, she said.
Perhaps the most inspirational online student I’ve had to date came through my classes last year. She was homeless, logging in from another state where she had received special grant money for her tuition. She joined on-campus classes via Skype and participated in online classes the same as everyone else. Once she reported reading her textbook by the light of her car. Often, she couch-surfed, begging friends and relatives for a place to stay. I worked with her closely all year, impressed by her drive. She earned her certificate in public relations on schedule, meeting the exact same requirements that our on-campus students must meet. I could not be more proud.