Ponderings about On-line Learning
In a past life, over 30 years ago, I spent a few years working for a now-defunct computer learning school. You know the kind I mean – you see their ads on the channels that show re-runs of Bonanza and Gunsmoke. I was in charge of filing VA forms for the veterans who were taking classes there but still had much interaction with the instructors who taught programming languages. We had many heated discussions regarding the possibility of using the computer for teaching classes online. While I’m now ashamed to admit it, I was the person who argued against this ever happening. I said that a machine could never replace a live person in a classroom setting. Those programming instructors would certainly be laughing at me now!
Last week I taught two sessions of my Intro to RSS class to a group of librarians from two different states using Centra software and VOIP technology. My first few years of using this technology were hard since I didn’t teach frequently enough to become comfortable with its features. I think I’m finally at ease switching between text chat and live talk while running my web presentation. My students are unfailingly patient when a new window doesn’t show up on their own computer monitors. I always have lots of interaction during the course of the two hours. I’ve asked myself if this would be better done in person – and I’m not sure of the answer. Certainly, seeing people face to face leads to a natural exchange of ideas and comments, but we had a pretty lively conversation online last week. The over-riding feature in teaching online is that a librarian from the U.P. in Michigan and two librarians from western Indiana could join with other librarians from the metro Detroit area in discussing the advantages of using RSS without leaving their desks. That alone makes a huge difference to me in judging the merits of on-line vs. in person classes.
With the threat of widespread H1N1 flu in the upcoming months, colleges are requesting their professors to plan ahead and put their lectures online so that students may view them from home or dorms. I wonder how many of these teachers have the skills and/or desire to do this. The image I’ll always carry with me from the various universities I’ve attended is that of an older professor either pointing to something on the board, reading out of a book, or sitting on a lecture desk earnestly discussing a topic. Other than actually watching my teachers waving their arms in the air to get across their point of view, most of these other activities will easily lend themselves to the on-line technology. My mother and my brother were both college professors. If they were still alive, I wonder what they would think of this shift in the method of educating their students. Personally, I love it!!