Gary Stager on High-Quality Online Education: How to Make Your Online Courses Better Than Your Traditional Classes

Article excerpt

The great scientist, Marvin Minsky, once said, "Imagine what it would be like if TV actually were good. It would be the end of everything we know." For the sake of this article I'd like to play with Minsky's words and say, "Imagine if online education were actually good. It would end schools as we know them."

I believe online learning holds great potential for education. My colleagues and I have been teaching online for nearly a decade at Pepperdine University where the learning experience for students has become richer, more flexible and more personal than traditional face-to-face classes.

Unfortunately, few higher-ed institutions and even fewer K-12 programs share Pepperdine's commitment to constructivism and social learning theory. Most online programs are based on constraints, such as: too few student to justify advanced courses; geographic distance; teacher shortages; mandates squeezing electives out of the school schedule or budget cuts. In such cases, online classes respond to a crisis and are the Internet equivalent of the correspondence course.

A client recently asked if they could "see one of my online classes." The request meant that they wanted to see the bunch of stuff I prepare and deliver to my students. Such an expectation is based on the widely held assumption that online courses are a form of "shovelware." If a person asked to "see one of my face-to-face classes," they would be looking to observe what the classroom participants do. This peculiar clash of perspectives is critical when considering the future of learning. Why is it that we think about practice when discussing traditional classes and content when we imagine online learning?

Schools considering offering online courses to their students should consider the following recommendations.

Online courses are not your opposition Fears of funding losses and arrogance lead some schools to adopt a monopolistic view of providing education for their community's children.

Students enroll in online courses for many reasons Designing course offerings exclusively for type-A gifted advanced placement students fails to acknowledge the needs and desires of other students who could benefit from online courses.

Invite your teachers to teach online The fabulous courses offered by the Virtual High School are taught by teachers in participating schools. …