Some people say that the beginning of the online education movement, including dozens of free online courses, is disruptive to higher education in California and in other states. You also could say that when penicillin came out, it was disruptive to the medical practice.
About 20 years ago, technology started to seep into college teaching. And about 10 years ago, many college instructors started to use electronic devices to provide information in the classroom, and to allow students, even ones who were not in the classroom itself to participate.
These days, in many classrooms at colleges, everything the teacher says or writes or draws in class is posted to a website as it happens. Any student that has Web access can send in questions, comments or suggestions during the lecture. Lectures in many college classrooms have become more dynamic, and both instructors and students enjoy how dynamic many lectures are now. And some free online classes may actually begin to be offered for college credit soon.
You might see articles that say how education is going to have the same sort of shakeup that music, journalism and publishing have had in the last decade. However, online education did not just suddenly happen overnight. This is the way it has been going for years. Teachers have been evaluating, experimenting and improving their teaching processes with technology for many years, and this situation will continue to evolve.
At the University of California, many professors are bringing more technology into their classrooms because they think it is efficient, effective and rewarding. Two of the professors have set a goal to have the best calculus class on the planet. That means that they want to have the best class overall, not just the best of the online classes. The fact that you can make online presentations so flexible, responsive and multifaceted is why they think that they can do it.
Coming up with a good online class takes a great deal of effort. It is similar to writing a book or a piece of music, or a serious research paper. Some professors have integrated much technology into their teaching, but have not at this point come up with a class that is fully online. Many professors are in training, so to speak and have gathered data and experience for the last few years as they get ready to make the leap to teaching a full online class.
But that is the good thing about so much technology being available today in teaching. Educators have many options available to them to impart knowledge on their students. This is worth keeping in mind because some people think that online education means that you have to choose between a small, closed classroom where the professor uses the Socratic method, and a two dimensional class online with no flexibility and very little human contact.
Many professors today live in a middle ground in teaching their classes, where they use some aspects of traditional college teaching, but also some of the online educational tools that are available. And many students desire the flexibility and learning modes that are offered by online education, as long as they can still get in contact with a real person to help them learn new things sometimes.
One professor once asked 200 students – some of whom were online – if they want to have an online class option for a required class with a very long waiting list. Many of them jumped to their feet and cheered. But the professor asked, what if the class is very bad? The students responded, do you think they had never had a bad in person college class? The point is that there are good and bad ways to do anything.
When designing an online class, just having the class on a computer is not enough. It is very important for the online class to feel personalized or it will not be as effective.
To make sure that students who take online classes get enough human attention, we need to have more study of the process and more evaluation. Also, we have to be certain that students do not just like these classes, but really learn the material as well online as they would in a regular class.