By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga
(Part 1 of 2)
For many years, I’ve been keeping an eye on the evolution of online courses in education.
During this time, my vantage point has shifted from student to technology professional and professor. My thoughts, which have not changed very much, have primarily centered on design of online courses as it relates to rigor, convenience, application, and appropriateness. In Part 1, I discuss the variations in design and uses of online courses. In Part 2, I share my thoughts on best practices and the appropriateness of specific types of online courses.
Looking back, I can truthfully say rigor was lacking in the courses I took as a student. At the time, online courses were relatively new, so this was to be expected. As with any innovation, the initial steps are generally a far cry from future strides.
Since then, more educators have become better acclimated to this new method for delivering instruction. Additionally, robust course management software solutions have emerged in recent years that provide educators more flexibility with course design. It is this combination of the increased comfort level and better course design solutions that have resulted in an increase in course rigor.
Today, online courses come in a variety of formats with differing characteristics—completely online versus hybrid and synchronous versus asynchronous.
The typical online course can be carried out completely online without ever physically meeting in a classroom. Hybrid online courses, on the other hand, split traditional class time with online time. As an example, students can meet every other week in class and complete the remainder of the course online.
Synchronous online courses require that students and educators meet online on specific dates and times in order to carry out activities such as group discussion, lectures, and presentations. Asynchronous online courses allow for students to complete activities and assignments at their own pace.
One of the more controversial uses of online courses is for K-12 education. Proponents of these programs generally assure proper accreditation and claim that students will excel through their programs. Controversial or not, these programs are gaining acceptance by many. Although the majority of online courses for K-12 are utilized for credit recovery or for delivering courses that are unavailable at students’ home district, other programs offer a complete curriculum to students. Some programs offer courses starting at the middle school level, while others offer courses solely for high school students.
It goes without saying that there are definite advantages to online courses. Many school districts have limited resources and course offerings for their students. Online courses give these school districts the opportunity to overcome those limitations by partnering with universities and other entities to offer what is missing. These opportunities also apply to school districts that are geographically isolated.
To be continued…