Many studies claim that instruction using technology (ie: online courses) has similar learning outcomes as traditional instruction. I believe these findings are more of an indictment of traditional instruction than evidence for a need to step up technology inclusion.
While online courses work to engage students in discussion via blogging or message boards, they cannot replace the kind of thought necessary to discuss ideas face-to-face. When classroom (actual, not virtual) discussions get going, the back and forth between teacher and students as well as student to student leads to many insights and the playing with ideas simply cannot be accurately mimicked in an online discussion. Additionally, students partaking in an online environment are not using the same kinds of cognitive strategies as students in a real classroom. While students might be able to more carefully craft their response in an online discussion, the sense of urgency and the need to think on their feet is not there like it is in a classroom. Furthermore, important social skill such as knowing how to respectfully disagree with someone to their face are not able to be learned via virtual learning. I have heard of studies where the parts of the brain stimulated during online interaction and face-to-face interaction are very different.
While I am not opposed to online education, I do think we need to realize that if the advantages of a real classroom are not fought for, we may all be out of the job someday (or our job will become facilitating online discussions). We need to consider what can be taught face-to-face that cannot be learned, or is even negatively impacted by online courses and move our instruction toward those goals. Simply presenting a powerpoint without student imput or having students only read out of a text and answer the end-of-chapter questions can very easily be replicated if not improved upon in an online classroom. There are many superficial benefits to online education (cost, speed, convenience, etc), yet the drawbacks are not as easy to spot (little formative assessment, lack of social skill instruction, lack of a teacher who can challenge/help students on individual basis, lack of meaningful and timely feedback). If school continues to be just a series of hoops to jump through, I welcome the online classroom (I could have jumped through the hoops a lot faster and with less boredom). Yet, by considering the many goals we have for students besides just learning content, we cannot afford to lose the traditional school setting, but we must work to align our teaching toward achieving these “other” goals, or we will have little validation when people question why our students shouldn’t just get online.
Thanks to all of you who have been visiting, and for those of you posting comments. I do not claim to be “the” or even really “an” authority. I am just trying to raise some points to get us all thinking. Those of you who are not “educators” I would greatly welcome your comments. Outside perspective can always raise new and important questions! As a preview, I recently came across a George Carlin(sp?) clip that I will post in the next few days. What he says is not only crude, it is true.