Debunking Myths About Online Instruction

They said that Aristotle was wrong when he challenged the common theory of education during his day. His technique of raising questions to require thought /discourse changed the passive listening pedagogy of his age.

They criticized Maria Montessori when she devised an early childhood curriculum based on developmental stages and hands-on instruction. She debunked her critics, and her method is still revolutionary over a hundred years later.

John Dewey debunked his critics who said that the Project Method wasted valuable teacher directed time where knowledge was poured (sometimes beaten) into children’s heads. Horace Mann was criticized when he proposed a free education for every child in America. Today, there is even discussion of free community college education.

There is similar discussion today questioning the viability of online instruction. A colleague recently stated to me that the argument for the effectiveness of online instruction is still up in the air. I argued back that the old fashioned brick and mortar institution might be the pedagogy that is more in danger
hroughout the years, pencils have replaced the stylus; the interactive whiteboard has replaced the chalkboard; word processing programs have replaced lined paper. Families no longer sit around their radio at night to listen to the latest serial. Telephones now follow you, and television is available at your fingertips. More movies are watched at home than in the theater.
Can anyone argue that television, video, and YouTube have not offered greater access to knowledge?  I recently visited the famous Stony Brook, Long Island Post Office with its famous eagle venire. The wings of that eagle flutter at the top of each hour. Rather than wait fifteen minutes until the next hour, I YouTubed it, watched the wings flutter, then moved to my next touristy destination. Does the internet not provide better and more timely learning experiences? Does it not provide access to real time information from far away?

Let’s debunk a few of the myths about online instruction that are commonly proffered by critics:

Students Need the Structure of the Face-to-Face Class-Some students definitely do. Yet, have you ever watched the bored faces of students attempting to listen and follow a lecture from an average professor. Have you ever watched the faces of morning people trying to learn at night or, even better, night people trying to wake up to learn in the morning? Online instruction creates the possibility of importing the lectures of the top professors in the world. It provides the opportunity for professionally prepared videos facilitated by trained professors. Asynchronous online lessons can be viewed during the hours most effective and most convenient to the learner.

Professors Are Not as Available to the Online Student-I am not sure that a study exists, but I would hypothesize that more personal email addresses and personal cell phone numbers are offered by online instructors than brick and mortar ones. I would further hypothesize that contact hours are less restrictive for online instructors than traditional professors. Office hours of 2:00-4:00 on Tuesday and Thursday should be a thing of the past. Direct access between professors and students via email, text, and cellphone should be the new norm.

Online Instruction is Impersonal-In the early days, this might have been a valid argument. Early classes were merely correspondence courses with products delivered through technology with a smidgeon of online quizzes. Time has changed that. Modern, quality online courses now contain regular personal video from the professor, other video from some of the best speaker experts throughout the world, collaboration forums where students are required to discuss issues moderated by professors, and chat rooms to share individual presentations. Arguments can be made that online instruction is more personal than traditional face-to-face instruction. An online student cannot hide behind a notebook. Each post and every reply can be counted and credited.

Student Service Programs Are Better in Face-to-Face Classes-I can’t argue about other schools, but I have heard the nightmares. At Union Institute & University, each student has email, phone, and personal access to an enrollment counselor and a program advisor, in addition to their personal professor. No advisor has a student load higher than one hundred students. In addition, there are career and financial aid counselors. Waiting in lines for registration or assistance is non-existent. It, like the courses, is also online.
Change is a very difficult thing. Yet, without change, growth cannot occur. The lead character in Herman Hesse’s novel Demien once said, “In order to grow, you must first destroy a world.” I am not proposing that the world of the brick and mortar higher education institution needs to be destroyed. Yet I proffer that technology exists; we should not be afraid to use it.

Watch this video. I doubt that you could do a better job at communicating from behind your classroom podium.

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