Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Higher Ed Professionals' Perspectives on Online Education

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Higher Ed Professionals' Perspectives on Online Education

Article excerpt

The recent growth of online education has added a new dimension to college learning that was unthinkable a few decades ago. Knocking down the traditional notion of the "ivory tower" college campus, online education presents an entirely new classroom paradigm, a shift resulting in more opportunities and challenges. For insight into both, we turned to college professors and administrators who reveal the good and the bad that accompany an online college education.

THE PROS

A diverse educational experience

College administrators, faculty and students agree that the most obvious benefit of online education is convenience. Additionally, online education connects students from all over the world, enriching the learning experience by presenting global perspectives in online discussion groups and chat rooms.

That's the case at Regent University, a Christian-based college in Virginia, where administrators estimate that 50 percent of its 4,400 students now take courses online. Regent currently enrolls students from every state in the United States plus 56 countries, according to Tracy Stewart, the university's vice president of information technology.

In addition to attracting international students, online education has become an increasingly appealing option for active-duty U.S. armed forces personnel, according to Dr. Steven Gold, a professor of business administration with TUI University (formerly known as Touro University International).

This 10-year-old online university accredited by the Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges markets directly to military personnel, an increasingly large part of its student body. Gold reports that online education works well for this demographic.

"They [military students] are smart, diligent and have high levels of integrity," he says.

Students with these attributes, he says, make a good match for the type of teaching TUI promotes: research, critical thinking and analytical skills.

"We use no textbooks," Gold says. "It's all case-based critical thinking."

Pushing professors' and students' boundaries

Just as writing a thank-you letter to someone usually engenders a more thoughtful response than an in-person "thanks," so too does an online educational response--from both professors and students.

"Practically all faculty members will tell you they're better professors, that they've learned how to think about learning in a new way," says Jay A. Halfond, dean of Boston University's Metropolitan College and Extended Education.

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"I find the richness of teaching online--both the ability to watch students think as they answer questions and my ability to respond thoughtfully--greatly enhanced," says Dr. Michael Frank, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School of Management & Technology at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), one of 11 accredited, degree-granting institutions in the University System of Maryland.

"It's easier for students to make thoughtful, substantive contributions, much more so than in the classroom, where you might get about 30 seconds to talk," says Halfond, who has taught for several years, in both the traditional and online formats. "It encourages students to think more deliberately, and write better."

Whereas it's not uncommon for at least a few students in every traditional classroom to slump low in their seats in the back of the room, avoiding class participation, the same doesn't hold true for online students. …

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