Continuing problems with state test scores for the Tennessee Virtual Academy, an online school operated by a private company, and recent launching of the Western Governor University in Tennessee require some attention to the appropriate role of online classes in education at all levels.
Online classes can offer some advantages.
Students in online classes may be able to take greater control of their learning experiences, and this a point officials of WGU Tennessee have emphasized.
Many online classes are “asynchronous,” which means, unlike the traditional classroom, that students do not have to be in the same place at the same time to receive instruction. Students can decide to complete assignments in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, if they want.
Online classes, depending on the subject, offer a variety of tools to assist students with their study. These can include access to readings, videos, computerized slide presentations, use of whiteboards and computer simulations.
Through a variety of media students may be able to communicate with their instructors and fellow students. Students can communicate directly with the instructor without concern about peer pressure if they need to ask questions or state that they do not understand an assignment or some aspect of course content.
Students online may worry less about personal differences with their classmates.
While greater control of the learning experience may be an advantage for students in online classes, these classes also often require that students take greater responsibility for their learning. Participation in an online class usually means that the student has to take a more active role in the learning process.
The in-class environment often provides a greater opportunity for camaraderie, seemingly spontaneous insights and even occasional serendipity, unexpected surprises. The instructor may be better able to build rapport to facilitate the learning process.
Online classes are tools in the education process, but students need to evaluate before they enroll in online courses their willingness to take more responsibility for the learning process and the skills needed to take that responsibility.
-The Daily News Journal, Murfreesboro, Tenn.