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Onward Debate: Online Classes

MOOCs. They’ve been offered for years by schools like Duke and Princeton, and now they’re headed to Penn State. As adorable as the word MOOC sounds, it really just stands for massive online open course. Basically, fourteen professors will be offering five free online courses available to anybody via a company called Coursera.

MOOCs are open to everybody and don’t count for course credits, so there’s a definite difference between them and regular online classes. Still, when they were mentioned amongst Onward Staters we were reminded of personal experiences with cyber courses. A debate emerged — what pros and cons do online classes provide?

(Editors note: This Daily Collegian article published today offers a good description of Penn State’s experiment with MOOCs so far.)

An Argument Against Online Classes: Presented by Sarah Hanrahan 

In the past, I personally haven’t been a huge fan of the online classes I’ve taken. I simply found them to be easy A’s. I know of other students who feel similarly. Some have even mentioned to me that they copy and paste things from the online textbook instead of actually doing the work. Further, the internet just doesn’t have the same feel as the classroom setting.

Online classes also prevent face to face communication. Last semester when I had problems with an online grammar course I was taking, I couldn’t go to office hours or wait to speak with the teacher after class. Instead, we communicated through a series of vague e-mails. Those e-mails would sometimes remain unanswered for days at a time. The responses were often short and seemingly harsh. Tone doesn’t translate well over the internet.

Although I recognize that MOOCs aren’t the same as a typical online class or World Campus, the degree of difficulty and accessibility of outside materials to assists in coursework is a big concern for their overall effectiveness and ability to foster learning.

I wasn’t the only one to struggle with the online environment. Even on a general level online courses just don’t parallel the classroom experience. A press release from the National Education Policy Center reports that students attending the online school K12 inc. are falling behind in math and reading fields. Miron, a representative for NEPC, said, “cyberschool is less likely to meet federal education standards.” While K12 inc. only teaches grades K-12 (obviously), the problem seems to be the same for online colleges. In an online setting, it’s harder to maintain interest and motivation. As a result, the drop out rate is higher.

That being said, I recognize that these courses are not offered for credit and there is really nothing to lose. I just worry that Penn State’s desire to permeate the market through these considerably less structured courses might not be the best use of resources.

Why I Support Online Courses: Presented by Mara Kern

I have only taken one online class through Penn State, and I will admit it wasn’t my favorite class. However, I did take a few art classes through the Art Institute, and I learned more in those three classes than I have learned in most of my classroom experiences at Penn State.

Sure, sometimes you can take the easy way out in online classes just like you could in a classroom, but it is up to you to take advantage of resources available to help you learn. Online courses also offer a unique opportunity for you to do work when you have the time, which is especially important for busy students — or as is likely in the case of MOOCs — busy adults.

Another benefit of online classes is that the instructor has a requirement to provide some level of feedback. As I am sure most of you are aware, most professors don’t provide you with an ample amount of feedback unless you seek it out.

Although MOOCs are still in their trial stage, they have been rapidly expanding among the large universities who want to get ahead of the curve in online education. Many universities, colleges, and organizations have successfully embraced online learning as a viable and attractive delivery strategy. From dissemination of information to influencing and changing attitudes, online learning has proven itself to be an attractive and effective delivery strategy.

In the case of MOOCs, it goes along with Penn State’s mission of enriching and educating the commonwealth. They don’t deplete the value of the Penn State degree and only help improve education in our communities. What’s there to lose?

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Posts from the all-student staff of Onward State.

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