When I helped teach an online class four years ago for Brandeis
University in Waltham, Mass., I came away with mixed feelings.
Yes, it was cool teaching a class where the students were
sprinkled across the United States. But it was difficult not seeing
students face to face. And as convenient as it was to teach a course
this way, having a discussion via software was not the same as the
kind of interaction you get in a room full of students quickly
feeding off one another.
Many of my students were older and had jobs during the day.
Several of these students did the absolute minimum they needed to do
in order to pass the course. And some of the other students told me
later that it had been difficult not being able to sit down with the
teacher one on one.
That was then. This is now.
With the spread of broadband technology and improved online
teaching tools, students and teachers are finding online classes to
be a more fluid and rewarding experience.
The use of Skype, an Internet-based phone service, for example
has enhanced the teaching of foreign languages online. Yu-Hsiu Lee,
a doctoral student in the Language Education Department of Indiana
University, Bloomington, praised Skype for allowing anyone who wants
to learn Chinese to have one-on-one instruction with a native
speaker. Skype allows students to both see and hear the instructor
on their computer screens, he wrote last week in the Skype Journal,
a blog devoted to the evolution of Internet phone service. Unlike
using a CD to learn a language, he says, Skype allows students to
get instant feedback and to ask instructors specific questions.
Along with technological advances, more and more students are
taking online classes. The 2007 Sloan Survey of Online Learning
found that 1 in 5 higher education students is now taking at least
one class online. In the fall of 2005, 3.18 million students were
taking online courses; in the fall of 2006 (the last year for which
statistics are available), it was 3.5 million. That's more than
twice as many (1.6 million) as in 2002. The 9.7 percent annual
growth rate for online enrollments from 2005-06 far exceeds the 1.5
percent growth of the overall higher education student population
for that period, the survey finds.
Another study released last week reveals that a large percentage
of middle and high school students are interested in taking courses
online that aren't offered at their schools. This holds true for 47
percent of high school students and 32 percent of students in grades
six to eight, according to the study by Project Tomorrow, a
nonprofit education organization, for Blackboard, a provider of
education software and services. …