Monday, January 16, 2006Online learning changes the nature of the university
In The University of Anywhere Michael McGrorty writes of his experiences in library school. Over half the courses he took were online. Michael asks: "if a university offers a substantial proportion of classes online, can it really be said that the school is offering anything? With online classes, the school essentially disappears."
Michael raises some very interesting points. It seems that the American experience of online learning is somewhat different from the way it is taught here in New Zealand. Michael writes: "there is a certain amount of help offered via email and other online devices, but there is nowhere to hide and nobody to sit behind; in an online class there isn’t any back row, and you can never be absent. The march of assignments and deadlines presses, and there being no attendance, there isn’t any reminder of time winding down".
Where VUW classes are taught online, students still attend virtual classes, and use microphones and/or a chatroom to communicate. The lecturer delivers a lecture in real-time, using software that allows them to transmit voice and a powerpoint presentation at the same time. Students ask questions and discuss the lecture in the chat room. So there's still a sense of being part of a group. Some students will get together in small groups around the country, so the class can still be quite social. Michael's online classes sounded a lot more isolated. I think they would suit my learning style, but I'd probably enjoy them less.
Finally, Michael suggests: "it becomes possible to envision a return to an older model of the school of library service—the one that was centered in the library itself. We may find ourselves returning to a situation in which library students work as apprentices in various types of libraries while taking their online classes from more or less distant institutions of learning. Nothing would be better for the trade, for the students or the future of the library."
I think he may well be right.
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