By Judith McDaniel with Tim Fraser-Bumatay, Daniel Herrera, and Ryan Kelly1
Is it possible to get a “real education” from an online class? Several years ago a professor from the University of Virginia published an opinion piece about online education in the New York Times and insisted that it was impossible. “You can get knowledge,” he continued, “from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning.”2
I teach literature in a fully online Master’s program. My students enroll from all over the United States and from overseas. Our asynchronous discussion forums give students an opportunity to interact, to be thoughtful in their responses to my discussion prompts and to one another. I find the online classroom to be stimulating, diverse, and creative. It is different from a face-to-face class experience, but it can be different in ways that enhance student learning through the creation of an online community.
I am joined in writing this article by three of the students who have just completed their Masters degree in Literature and Writing in this online program. We have created an article that has two parts. In the first we talk about building community and how that happens, how students from very different backgrounds begin to interact, enjoy one another, challenge one another. In the second part of the article, we recreate some of the conversations we had about difficult subjects and difficult texts. We talked about race extensively when we read Othello and Heart of Darkness. Continue reading