Online Classes Offer Balance

Online Classes Offer Balance

 

Online classes offer a variety of advantages for working adults who have enough on their plate without adding the stress of finding time for an education.  Probably the hardest part of attending a traditional university, for me, was finding time to fit it into my schedule.  I worked the traditional workday and then I had to make it to three-hour class four nights a week.  This was brutal because by the time I drove home and got to bed, it was close to midnight.  I would have to get up at 6 am and start all over again.  Thankfully I was in my early 20s at the time.  I honesty do not think I could handle that sort of schedule now.

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Online vs. Traditional Faculty Demands

MOOCs have drawn attention to the different requirements of online vs. traditional teaching jobs.  I recently watched Dr. Dani Babb’s Udemy presentation titled How to Make Money Teaching as an Online Professor.  She said something that I thought was interesting.  She had worked as a traditional professor prior to becoming an online professor.  When she discussed the job requirements of an online professor, she mentioned that online professors have to deal with students who expect a lot more interaction in the online environment than the traditional one.  This is very true.  This is also something that I do not think gets enough attention in the media.

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Advantages of Peer Interaction in Online Learning

One of the most important ways students learn in online courses is through peer-to-peer interaction.  In my experience with traditional classrooms, there were far more lectures and much student involvement.  The professors spoke “at us” in traditional courses. In online courses, there is more of a group discussion. Students receive the professor’s perspective as well as viewpoints from every student in the course.  In my opinion, this makes for a much more interesting and interactive classroom.

Not all students are fans of lecture-based learning.  MOOCs may experience high dropout rates due to their lecture-based format. According to the article MOOCs: Will Online Courses Help More Students Stay in School, “Critics of MOOCs are quick to point out their low completion rates (fewer than 7% of students complete the courses on average). They also note that the courses take the ineffective lecture format and make it the primary mode of learning.”

The types of online courses I have taught rely very little, if at all, on lectures.  The courses include more peer interaction and written assignments. The peer interaction revolves around discussion questions.  There are usually at least two discussion topics posted each week.  Students must respond to the initial question and respond to their peers’ postings as well.  This requires students to address the question, discover other students’ perspectives, and develop critical thinking skills.

Students’ responses to their peers must include substantive comments and well-constructed follow-up questions.  These questions often develop the conversation and create a dialogue.  Every student can see these discussions.  Every student can interject their comments.  It creates a pool of information that would not be provided to students in a lecture hall.  It allows for much more depth to the exploration of the topic.

In a traditional course, the professor may give their insight and opinions about a topic.  In an online course, this is possible as well. What is different is the amount of interaction required by the students.  Granted, things may have changed since I took traditional courses in the 80’s.  However, based on what I read and what I hear from my students, traditional college courses have not changed that much.  I believe that is why there is such an interest in MOOCs.  They add a new dimension that traditional courses have lacked.  However, MOOCs may not provide the peer interaction is the same way that regular online classes can.  The reason for this is due to the number of students in class.  MOOCs are massive.  Most online courses I teach include fewer than 20 students. When there are too many students, the discussions become overwhelming and no one takes the time to read all of the postings.

The best part of peer interaction is that students can learn from everyone’s experiences. Many online students have had decades of experience. This provides a wealth of knowledge that may be added to the professor’s perspective.  This allows everyone, including the professor, to garner important insight.

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MOOCs: Top 10 Sites for Free Education With Elite Universities

 

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses.  Although there has been access to free online courses on the Internet for years, the quality and quantity of courses has changed. Access to free courses has allowed students to obtain a level of education that many only could dream of in the past.  This has changed the face of education.  In The New York Times article Instruction for Masses Knocked Down Campus Walls, author Tamar Lewin stated, “in the past few months hundreds of thousands of motivated students around the world who lack access to elite universities have been embracing them as a path toward sophisticated skills and high-paying jobs, without paying tuition or collecting a college degree.”

Although MOOCs are the latest trend, not everyone agrees that schools should offer them.  Joshua Kim Insight Higher Ed article Why Every University Does Not Need a MOOC noted that offering free material may not make sense for the individual university.  It may be more important to stand out in other ways.

There may also be some issues for students who lack motivation.  Since a MOOC is voluntary and there is no penalty for dropping the program or lagging behind, there may be issues with course completion.  Although a student may have received an excellent education, there will not be a corresponding diploma.

For those who desire a free education and have the motivation, the following includes the:  Top 10 Sites for Information about MOOCs:

  1. Udemy Free Courses – Udemy is an example of a site allows anyone to build or take online courses.  Udemy’s site exclaims, “Our goal is to disrupt and democratize education by enabling anyone to learn from the world’s experts.” The New York Times reported that Udemy, “recently announced a new Faculty Project, in which award-winning professors from universities like Dartmouth, the University of Virginia and Northwestern offer free online courses. Its co-founder, Gagen Biyani, said the site has more than 100,000 students enrolled in its courses, including several, outside the Faculty Project, that charge fees.”
  2. ITunesU Free Courses – Apple’s free app “gives students access to all the materials for courses in a single place. Right in the app, they can play video or audio lectures. Read books and view presentations.”
  3. Stanford Free Courses –  From Quantum Mechanics to The Future of the Internet, Stanford offers a variety of free courses.  Stanford’s – Introduction to Artificial Intelligence was highly successful. According to Pontydysgu.org, “160000 students from 190 countries signed up to Stanford’s Introduction to AI” course, with 23000 reportedly completing.”  Check out Stanford’s Engineering Everywhere link.
  4. UC Berkeley Free Courses – From General Biology to Human Emotion, Berkley offers a variety of courses.  Check out:  Berkeley Webcasts and Berkeley RSS Feeds.
  5. MIT Free Courses – Check out MIT’s RSS MOOC feed.  Also see:  MIT’s Open Courseware.
  6. Duke Free Courses – Duke offers a variety of courses on ITunesU.
  7. Harvard Free Courses – From Computer Science to Shakespeare, students may now get a free Harvard education. “Take a class for professional development, enrichment, and degree credit. Courses run in the fall, spring, or intensive January session. No application is required.”
  8. UCLA Free Courses – Check out free courses such as their writing program that offers over 220 online writing courses each year.
  9. Yale Free Courses – At Open Yale, the school offers “free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn.”
  10. Carnegie Mellon Free Courses – Carnegie Mellon boosts “No instructors, no credits, no charge.”

 

For younger students, check out the 60 Minutes video about Khan Academy and KhanAcademy.org.  Also check out Ted Ed.

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