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Contradictions of Online Classes

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    Historically, physical campuses were considered to provide superior educational experiences to online courses, as technology grows so too do the number of universities that offer online classes as well as the increased variability of courses mainly due to increased accessibility, the virtual community, and improvements to the quality and personalization of education.  With everything in life, there are positives and negatives, the digital classroom is no exception.  Three points to consider with contrasting views are time, community, and quality of education.

    What distinguishes a virtual classroom from a physical one is the level of accessibility; the only necessity is an internet connection. The internet is always available unlike a traditional classroom, so online classes are available anytime the student can log in.  This gives way for students with pre-existing commitments to family or work to continue their education.  Having 24 hours a day access can make it more feasible for nontraditional students to further their education as well.  “E-learning courses give you the opportunity to plan your time more efficiently, since the on-line learning material can be accessed at any time of day and night.”, (Masic & Pandza, 2010, para 8). The flexibility of online classes can be just as much of a hindrance to some students as they are a blessing to others.  “The increased flexibility of online learning comes with a bit of a trade-off—[the student] need[s] to be highly self-motivated”, (Erstad, 2017, para 10).

    When presented with never-ending access to course material it is possible for procrastination to set in.  It can be challenging to create a productive work environment when taking classes at home, (Sharma, 2016, para 14).  The family dynamic needs to be taken into consideration as well.  For nontraditional students with family distractions or emails for work, finding that time and space can be a challenge. Erstad (2017, para 12), suggests that students should set, “aside time every week for studying and [create] a work space with minimal distractions”, to be successful. Distance learning requires students to be self-motivated since they do not have the social constructs of a traditional class, or its required schedule. At times students need the influence of their fellow classmates and instructor to stay motivated, (Erstad, 2017, para 14).  A virtual classroom would indicate an accompanying virtual community.  An online student is likely to have required contributions to class discussions in the course’s curriculum.  Just as the student is connected to the digital classroom through the internet, they are also connected to their teachers and peers. Questions over course material can be posted on a class forum or emailed from the student’s smartphone.  This access makes it easy to keep in contact with instructors, and at often times feedback will be more readily available to students since they don’t have the traditional restraints of an instructor’s office hours, (Scherman Mansour, 2014, para 13). There are possible down sides to having a solely virtual student-teacher relationship. For example, an instructor’s role is not only to create assignments and assign grades, but also to engage and possibly spark creativity in the student.  Sharma (2016, para 13), does not believe it possible to gauge a student’s learning capacity or engage the students interest through the lens of a web cam.  The same can be said for a student that may struggle with the course material.  Without physical interaction, a teacher might not notice a student’s efforts put forth in learning while failing to successfully complete the assignments.  In a situation like this a faceless, struggling student could possibly be misinterpreted for one that has lost interest in the class.  Communication being completely technologically based, with no face to face contact removes control from both the instructor and the student. Unreliable internet access could prevent students from accessing their class and online community. “If we take into account the aspect of communication between students and sources of knowledge we can say that distance learning can be interactive”, (Masic & Pandza, 2010, para 9); this, however, can only be true if communication is available.

    When weighing the pros and cons of an online education, it is important for the student to evaluate the quality of the program, and evaluate the infrastructures set in place by the school to uphold those standards.  An online education offers students the opportunity to take a multitude of classes.  Since classes are not confined to a physical location, students are less likely to find themselves on a waiting list for a required course.  The variety of instructors teaching online classes can be just as diverse as the student population. “Online education gives them [students] an abundance of choices and the competition to attract eager students will guarantee that the courses will be prepared with great care”, (Leef, 2012, para 18).  George Leef, also suggests that instructors who put themselves out there for the world to analyze are likely to behave much differently than if they were in a traditional classroom. This world-wide exposure would also motivate the institution associated with the course to hold the instructors to high standards to maintain or heighten the school’s reputation, (Leef, 2012, para 19-20).

    With this abundance of online course offerings, a student could be faced with, “20-30 courses for one subject”, (Sharma, 2016, para 15).  For a student to be successful in a virtual learning enviroment they will need to find an instutute that provides the most reliable resources avalible to guide them in their course selection. Another possible concern to consider is how involved the instructor is in the education of every new class.  Instructors having a digital platform could easily use, “scripted lectures”, (Sharma, 2016, para 17), that over time no longer relate to student, or evolving nature of the course. If an engaged, guality instructor is not required by the institute, a student might find themselves taking a, “mass-produced online course”, (Leef, 2012, para 10), that may not be benificial to their fututre.  Just as there is a scale in quality from junior college to an ivy league school, so too can a difference be found in the quality of institutions offering online education.

    The primary objective of distance learning is, “to establish a flexible infrastructure, and thus the availability of this form of learning to each student, to raise the general level of digital literacy of the academic population and develop high-quality of educational content.” (Masic & Pandza, 2010, para 4).  An online education can be as individualized as the student receiving it.  For a student to be successful it is important for them to evaluate their time management, their dedication and disipline towards their education, and the quality of education they are paying for.  “Gone are the days when we were dependent for education on one university, institution or one teacher”,(Sharma, 2016, para 1). With this much coice, students have much to consider before logging into their virtual classroom.

    References

    1. Erstad, W. (2017, August 16). Online vs. Traditional Education: What You Need To Know. Retrieved from Rasmussen College: http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/college-life/online-vs-traditional-education-answer-never-expected/
    2. Leef, G. (2012, December 12). Big Debate Over Online Education. Retrieved from The James G. Martin Center For Academic Renewal: https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2012/12/big-debate-over-online-education/
    3. Masic, I., & Pandza, H. (2010). Distance Learning Perspectives. Acta Informatica Medica, 229-232.
    4. Scherman Mansour, J. (2014, April 9). Conquering the ‘Cons’ of Online Education. Retrieved from Rasmussen College: http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/college-life/conquering-cons-online-education/
    5. Sharma, V. (2016, July 11). Advantages of Online Classes that you can get. Retrieved from Klient Solutech: http://www.klientsolutech.com/advantages-of-online-classes/
    6. Sharma, V. (2016, July 12). Disadvantages of Online Classes for Students. Retrieved from Klient Soluttech: http://www.klientsolutech.com/disadvantages-online-classes-students/

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