There has been a lot of articles lately about the quality of an online education. Just this morning, Beth shared a couple of them with me. In brief, they talk about how an online education does not stand up to the quality of a traditional education at a traditional institution. The first thing I that came to mind was a question: Am I part of the problem? Or am I part of the solution?
Before I go on, I must tell you that I began my education in the traditional manner. I went to a state university right out of high school and sat in those large lecture halls where the instructor did not know my name, let alone anything about my goals in education. Oh, and then there were the classes taught by graduate students. Yea, I remember how it was. But my point is not to bash traditional education. A traditional education is a good thing for those that can afford the tuition and have the time to devote to it.
When I retired from the military, my first choice was to attend the local state university. I loved it! I found the classes interesting and loved being on campus. Unfortunately, it did not work for me because I also had a family to support. I was no longer 18 years old with no responsibility other than taking care of myself. I had to find another way that I could finish college and work full-time. This is where non-traditional education comes in.
I am not going to stand here (or more correctly, sit here at my desk) and tell you that all online education is high quality and as good as a traditional education. We can say the same about traditional education too. There are some that are good, and some that are not. But what I do want you to think about is what is our role as online educators in this discussion. When it comes to the quality of an online education, we have a lot to do with it.
One of my personal crusades is to wipe out the notion that online instructors are merely moderators. Granted, most online instructors do not write the courses they teach, nor do they create the assignments for their students, but that has more to do with maintaining good standing with regional accrediting agencies. Good online instructors do more than just review assignments and post grades. An online instructor should look for opportunities to teach their students.
How can we do this? There are many ways. For instance, an online instructor may not be able to change the requirements for the course, but they can certainly add supplemental material to help bridge the learning to a real-world application. One thing I have done is take the PowerPoint slides I use in the classroom and create an online video presentation by recording a voice-over recording. Another way is through the online discussions. An online instructor can steer the discussion and challenge their students to go beyond merely meeting the minimum requirements for the assignment.
Perhaps the best way we can teach our students is through our interactions with them. I am sure many of you have spent a good deal of time on the phone with a student helping them with an assignment. The same goes with email. When a student has a question, we don’t just tell them to re-read the instructions. We try to explain it in a different way that the student can understand.
And of course, we teach our students through the process of grading. Rather than just posting points, we use a grading rubric to show where the student did well, and where the student needs to improve. We also coach them on how to write a better paper. (Thanks to Dr. John Orlando, the Associate Director of Faculty Support at Northcentral University in Vermont, for this term.)
So, next time you read an article bashing the quality of an online education, stop and think. Are you part of the problem by simply moderating your class or are you part of the solution by looking for opportunities to teach your students?