Does online education promote real learning?
Undergraduates benefit from direct engagement
By Jeanine S. Stewart
Stewart is vice president for academic affairs and professor of psychology at Hollins University.
I have read with interest Daniel Wubah’s commentary on the place of distance education in Virginia Tech’s portfolio of offerings. I take no issue with the particulars of his essay. Any contrast between our two essays reflects differing perspectives originating from our respective roles at two very different institutions.
In the ancient world, the Greek philosopher and teacher Plato is said to have expressed concern about the use of printed books, given that certain concepts should only be taught through direct, personal interaction between student and instructor. While personal engagement with dedicated teachers remains the cornerstone of a Hollins education, our campus also embraces the role of technology (and books) in delivering or enlivening information.
Never before have there been so many options for connecting students with the information they need in order to meet their educational goals. Hollins University offers courses online in certain graduate programs where they have worked exceptionally well for busy, intellectually curious adults. We will be expanding those offerings this year in our popular Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. Hollins has built an academic program that serves our students’ goals while staying true to a mission that involves educating the whole person in a context that is as important as the texts student read in each course.
The governor’s stated goal of increasing STEM-H degrees earned in the state of Virginia by 2025 impacts all public and private institutions in the state, including Hollins. For students enrolled in our undergraduate program, however, we will continue to offer opportunities for direct engagement with science and mathematics (the information as well as the professors), along with solid preparation for health careers. Our transformative educational experience builds competencies that prepare students for further study and for leadership roles throughout their lives.
Participation increases with online offerings
By Daniel Wubah
Wubah is vice president for undergraduate education, deputy provost and a professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech.
In addition to providing access to more students, online classes can be designed to enhance interactions with the instructor and among students. For example, some students are more comfortable and actively participate in class discussions through chat rooms that are held at scheduled times as part of an online class. Faculty members are often able to engage students at a higher level through online communications because they are perceived as less formal. Online discussions can be used to promote informal and complex personal interactions when used as supplemental activities. This approach is particularly valuable for students from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds because such students are more inclined to contribute in online discussions than in face-to-face classes.
Through Virginia Tech’s online classes, working professionals are able to further their education in online classes with residential students. The workers often align their courses with their careers, which enable them to apply their new knowledge to their place of work. Also, students on a residential campus learn from working students when they take online classes together because of the wealth of practical knowledge that working students bring to the table.
While residential campus experience may be appropriate and affordable for some students, for others, taking online classes is the only way they can pursue their education. People who left college before graduating and whose busy work and family lives do not allow them to attend college on a full-time basis often use online degree completion programs. Depending on how the program is structured, meaningful education is accomplished through such programs.
Residential students are able to graduate on time with a minor or a second major by incorporating online and blended courses into their schedules. Also, online classes allow students to participate in other educational activities such as Study Abroad when they might otherwise be required to stay in a classroom.