The Continuing Controversy Over Online Education part 2

Residual Skepticism of Online Education

Nonetheless, our experts remain circumspect in their attitude towards online education. They are by no means unalterably opposed, but every statement rings with a cautionary note.

Nold-Glaser remains a traditionalist. “I will show my age here, but I’m not a fan of online education. I would love to learn about online classes where the students feel connected and truly engaged. I’ve talked with a few students in college now who are taking on-line classes and they are not finding success. It’s too easy for them to be disengaged.” Yet she does not rule distance learning out going forward. “I think/hope this will be an area of great growth. I think online courses make them more available to students. It’s the quality of the instruction that I have concerns with right now.” But for the present, she is not an advocate. “Kids’ lives are very, very busy. I wouldn’t recommend an online class unless there really is a need, like a student who is credit deficient.”

Ganjian prefers the blended educational approach: “I believe that students do have alternatives – community college is a good example and can be the right choice for certain students. However, I would probably not recommend an online education for the traditional undergraduate if it is not offered in conjunction with a brick and mortar university. Many of these programs are not regarded as a true equivalent to what a student might find elsewhere.”

Davis thinks it depends on the student. “Perhaps – the ‘distance’ option requires extreme discipline. A non-traditional student is likely to do better with a distance option in my opinion. True freshmen are dealing with so many transition issues, so many identity and maturity issues, that I am concerned that the anonymity of a distance option could be harmful if they have no other contact with a school. I much prefer a community college or even a four-year college where they have the option of living with a relative but still engaging in campus activities.”

But she continues, “I think for the non-traditional student, or even the student who has to work full time or who has children, the distance option makes so much sense. I do want to point out that distance options should have plenty of support included, should be only from accredited programs, and can sometimes be more expensive than more traditional programs.”

Foreman thinks that the online option can play a role, but does not recommend it is a complete substitute: “Online courses may solve part of the problem for some students such as cutting the cost on traveling to school or living on campus,” she says, but, “Overall I disagree with new students completing college online because they never feel the real flavor of college life.”

Appel, who has been in the trenches, observes, “What can I say: money is money. I have taught at community colleges that attract a lot of students who want to and do indeed transfer to four-year colleges. Many students start in the community/ junior colleges for their first two years to save money. The same may be said for online courses and distance learning (which I have taught as well)."

She agrees with Davis that for some students, online college education is the only viable option. “There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach: A plus is the obvious- saving money and possibly time (no commuting). Night and online classes may be the only option for people re-entering the workforce, single parents, and others who cannot dedicate themselves to a full time program during work hours."

She explains, “Some of the negatives are not experiencing the transition years with your peers and getting a false sense of grading or what I call “grade greediness” when a student expects to get straight As just for coming to class – this is simply not the norm at a four year college. One of the challenges that I saw when I was teaching a distance learning course is that some of the students didn’t get to interact with me enough to get the help they needed with papers or tests. It takes a lot of self-discipline to do well in a distance learning program and a high level of independence, self-sufficiency, and maturity. I tend to think that most students would be better off in a program that allows them to see the instructor face-to-face on a weekly basis instead of monthly.”