Technological advances in every aspect of today's society create a forum for us, teacher educators, to reexamine existing instructional methods in higher education. Daily lives of our students heavily rely on the use of computers and other electronic devices, and virtual worlds present a wide range of social opportunities through forums, blogs, wikis and chat rooms where communities are born. In order to be responsive and accommodate the changes, traditional instruction methods can't be the only way to reach technologically-savvy students. Many colleges and universities are beginning to integrate multimedia technologies into teacher education programs and to offer courses via distance/online learning (Leonard & Guha, 2001; Smith, Smith, & Boone, 2000).
As online courses are offered as an alternative to traditional instruction in higher education, there are considerable debates about online teaching and learning. Some believe that online education shows promise as an innovative and creative pedagogical method; sixty-seven percent of colleges and universities agree that online education is the single significant development and logical long-term strategy for the field of teacher preparation (Ernst 2005), offering flexibility and convenience by providing learning opportunities to anyone, at anytime, and anywhere. On the other hand, some educators hold skeptical views, perceiving distance learning as inadequate and inappropriate substitutes for on-campus and face-to-face instruction. What are the thoughts of the students who took online courses? What do they identify as advantages and disadvantages?
The authors of this article conducted a study among the students who were enrolled in a fully online graduate early childhood education program at one of the universities in New Jersey. Responses found that students were satisfied with the online courses and enjoyed the virtual learning experience. They expressed that flexibility, being able to study around their work and personal schedules, is a major advantage of attending the online class. Seventy-five percent of students indicated a willingness to take another online course, even if it were not required.
Just as they articulated several advantages, the students expressed concerns such as the lack of face-to-face interaction in the online environment. It was interesting to notice how individual personalities impacted the students' opinions toward interactions and participation in online courses. While most of the students were able to enjoy the online dialogue, one of the students felt that, as a very social person, much more could be gained from being in a traditional classroom environment and taking part in spontaneous class discussion. If someone is social and interactive, the lack of face-to-face interaction could be unfavorable. On the other hand, another student mentioned, "I am not very assertive and would probably not have communicated with the class and teacher as much as I did online."
From listening to the voices of the students who took online courses, it was evident that full online learning is a more appropriate tool for Internet-savvy students (Olson & Werhen, 2005), and most of the students are seeking interpersonal interaction in an online environment. …