By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga
(Part 2 of 2)
In Part 1, I discussed variations in design and uses of online courses by school districts across the country. In Part 2, I will share my thoughts on best practices and the appropriateness of specific types of online courses.
Online courses are intended to ultimately serve one purpose: convenience. Online courses allow students to conveniently access courses that are not available to them. Online courses also allow students the convenience of learning at home or other location.
In designing the first online graduate courses I taught, I chose the asynchronous format. At the time, I felt that requiring students to log in at a specific time was not substantially different than asking them to come to class on campus.
Over time, I found that my students and I preferred the hybrid format. Hybrid courses combine the best aspects of traditional and online courses. With this format, students can break away from the monotony of a fixed class schedule, yet they have opportunities to meet and interact with others taking the same course. In my opinion, there is no substitute for this type of exchange. The hybrid format lends itself collaborative learning and expands the students’ social and professional networks. As a result, the hybrid format allows for optimal learning.
Courses that are completely online have several potential pitfalls caused by the course design itself. First, with online communication, there is rarely direct communication. In many cases, instant communication between student and educator is more a myth and less a reality. Often the response to emails and texts is delayed, even between students. And, as discussions are kept brief and often communicate incomplete thoughts, online communication can result in misunderstanding.
Keep in mind that students have individual learning styles. Some students need the constant verbal exchange with fellow students and educators in order to fully understand concepts. Although possible, online learning is more difficult for these students. Closely associated with the individual learning style is individual self-discipline. Completing an online course, especially a hybrid course, requires students to work independently.
Designers of online courses need to consider many factors when developing their courses. Information overload, resulting from the endless sources of online information, is a possibility. Thought needs to be given to the amount of supplemental material that will be emailed or posted for students to read. The frequency of communication and feedback between educator and student also must be considered in the design of the course.
I do believe that online courses will continue to evolve and be better suited for more and more individuals. I also believe that online learning will remain an enhancement to our curriculums. I don’t believe that online curriculums will be the future of K-12 education. I have spoken to many educators about this possibility. These educators have told me that schools and the social development that occurs in them as a result of direct interaction are essential to the education of our children and to the well-being of our communities. These same educators have also told me that online courses do not allow for this. Perhaps more importantly, these educators strongly believe that our students develop the sense of responsibility and direction in our schools.
I believe them.