View from an Online Classroom

Judith McDanielBy Judith McDaniel
Editor, Web-based Course Design

After reading the article and the comments (Philip E. Auerswald’s “First Newspapers, Now Universities: It’s Transformation Time,” Washington Post, 8 June 2010), I was certainly disappointed in the quality of the conversation. Many of the comments are written by those who have never taken or taught an online class, nor have they considered the things that make an online course an exciting intellectual experience. Without the knee jerk reactions, I think it is past time to recognize that online education is with us for the duration. It won’t go away because it is a very exciting and viable alternative to traditional education.

Consider this: the way we deliver education, whether K-12 or university, has not changed since George Washington and John Adams were educated. Yes, the gender of the teachers has changed — women are now allowed to teach. But the read and listen and absorb and be tested — that remains the same. John Dewey thought he had a better idea when he proposed experiential education in the 1930s, but that form of education has remained marginalized.

I now teach in a fully online Master’s Program in literature and writing. I love the challenge of designing courses my students will love and learn and grow from. My students appreciate the community experience that allows them to discuss literature with peers and experiment (not quite experientially, but almost) with different points of view, different styles of literary criticism.

It is important to me that my students are adults, ranging in age from 26-60. They have real lives and real obligations and have chosen this form of education for many reasons. But not one of them would tell you it was a gut course, nor that it bore any resemblance to a university classroom where 200 or 1000 students sit and listen to a professor lecture. They read. They think. They respond to prompts. They discuss ideas with one another in a forum of 8-12 other students. They are excited about what they learn and how they are learning it.

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