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One more humble request for e-learning experiences

I should have known better than to launch an “unscientific survey” a few days into our official summer. I probably should know better than to ask again for comments a few days before the July 4th holiday weekend.

But I think it’s a topic worth pursuing given all the chatter since Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s iCollege proposal on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

First, thanks to Larry Copes, Bill Gleason and Susan Perry for their thoughtful comments about e-learning vs. in-class instruction.   

I posed these questions to readers in last Thursday’s post: Did students do better online or in a classroom with the instructor, and why or why not? What kinds of classes work well online and which ones don’t?

Here are a few excerpts from their comments:

Copes, a former math professor at Augsburg College: “The most successful e-learning seems to have occurred when I’ve posed a problem that piques students’ curiosity and asked them to find out enough mathematics to solve it. Most of them use their online fluency to make a good deal of progress. Upon request, I give suggestions of terms to Google, and I answer their questions. I also moderate as they share what they’ve learned with each other (perhaps also online) to solve the problem.”

Gleason, who teaches biomaterials at University of Minnesota Twin Cities: “My only direct experience with online teaching was through the U of M’s excellent UNITE system. This allowed lectures at the U to be simultaneously broadcast to sites off campus such as 3M, Medtronic. … The exams and papers were exactly the same for the folks who took the course on campus by physically attending the lectures and those off campus. Off-campus students could also ask questions during the lecture. I’d say the performance of the folks off-campus was slightly better than those on campus. [Added]This may have been because they had industrial experience and were perhaps a little better able to multifunction. The course was an introduction to biomaterials.”

Perry, who writes MinnPost’s Second Opinion blog and teaches editing at Metropolitan State University: “I have found that teaching online is much more time intensive. For example, instead of answering a question once, in front of all the students, I must often answer the question half a dozen times (or more) for individual students. Answering all student questions in writing is also incredibly time-consuming, as is reading the dozens of student messages that go up on my course site daily. (Students ‘talk’ and work on group projects together — activities I must constantly monitor. I also get e-mails — and phone calls — from them.)”

I hope others — teachers, students, anyone (please) — will share their thoughts either in Comments below or in the original post, where you can read the rest of the comments from Copes, Gleason and Perry.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 06/30/2010 - 09:14 am.

    Thanks for your kind words.

    However I want to make it explicit that I am not claiming “e-learning” of the type I described is superior. I noted that most of the off-site folks were already working professionally and most had some experience in the field of study. Thus, they did a little better than the on campus folks who were predominantly “rookies” in the field.

    Bill Gleason, U of M faculty and alum

  2. Submitted by Hillary Drake on 06/30/2010 - 09:46 am.

    I did an MBA at the Carlson School and an online technical certificate at St. Paul College in the last few years. Although it’s not an apples to apples comparison, I got a lot more value out of the in-person classes.

    My online classes were technical classes specific to my work, and they stayed focused on the book and syllabus. One of the great things (and also potential pitfalls) of an in-person class is that it can go off in a new direction depending on the student questions. Guest lectures also added a lot of value, and I don’t see how that would be possible with an online class.

    Finally, connecting with my classmates was the best part of Carlson. While it’s possible to do that online, it goes faster (and is easier) when you’re in a room together.

  3. Submitted by Casey Selix on 06/30/2010 - 10:41 am.

    Since seeing Bill Gleason’s comments on this post, I have added the rest of his original comments.

  4. Submitted by Joe Williams on 06/30/2010 - 11:29 am.

    A number of the classes that I took to get my Nursing degree at the U of M where either entirely online, or “enhanced.” Enhanced courses where a combination of online and classroom work.

    I haven’t ever enjoyed an online class. The bulletin boards where questions get posted are slow to update and typically full of questions that aren’t very well thought out. It takes a lot more courage to raise your hand than to type out a question. Additionally, I felt as though the topic was much less exciting to learn, primarily because there was no opportunity to synthesize information from the lecture afterwords with classmates.

    I had some personal issues, as well. While I recognize that I am responsible for my experience, it was a hurdle for me to truly get engaged with the material, since there is no way to tell if the teacher giving the class is engaged at all. The video lectures from some classes helped this, but generally speaking, it was a Powerpoint presentation with a voice over. Yawn.

    Lastly, it seems to me that the basics are a bad time to have a learning experience that is so disconnected from the teacher. If a learner has difficulty getting engaged with a topic, then I would assume that they are less likely to fully understand and absorb all of the information. Although there are plenty of real-life students that are ignoring real teachers in real classrooms, I would much rather be in the classroom learning something that I wasn’t all that interested in, than sitting at home and being distracted by everything else I could be doing.

  5. Submitted by Larry Copes on 07/01/2010 - 08:31 am.

    Just a minor correction: I left Augsburg 10 years ago to become a consultant in mathematics education. I still do some adjunct teaching of mathematics and math education, edit texts and other materials for publishers, and run professional development workshops to help teachers be more effective.

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