20 June 2012

Online vs Offline Courses and Degrees

It's been quite some time since my last Post.  I've jotted down a few possible topics, but didn't feel I had enough material to Post and/or I didn't feel up to writing one.   Perhaps this will get me started again.

In regard to online courses and degrees versus those at a brick and mortar school, I thought I 'd first begin with the opinions of a few educators, but none of them have contributed their opinions, even though all I was asking was for a yea or nay on either method of teaching or earning degrees.

I did not give them my own opinion, so as to keep their opinions completely unbiased by my own.    I made it clear that I was not taking a poll, that I was only asking a few educator friends and I always meant to write my own opinion, regardless of what they told me.   A moot point, since no one responded with an opinion of their own, anyway.

For non-technical subjects, I see nothing wrong with viewing lectures or reading class information online.  It's hardly different from the films and PBS shows we saw when I was going to junior and senior high school.  At those levels, perhaps even technical subjects could be covered well enough, with a teacher available for later questions and further material.

At university levels, I still see little wrong with presenting non-technical lectures via the 'net.

When it comes to technical subjects, though, I think I'd draw the line.  Being the product of brick and mortar Florida Institute of Technology, I cannot envision any of my classes being presented via the television or computer.  We had small classes of fifteen or so and all of my classmates and I took almost exactly the same courses, except for some electives, whether technical or nontechnical.  We were a serious minded lot, although we had our share of fun, too, in and out of the classroom. 

We interacted with the professors.  If we did not understand something, it was up to us to  tell the professor as much and have him explain it again or better.  After all, we were paying these people to educate us and it didn't pay to be shy about asking questions.  Nearly forty years later, we're still friends with these professors and always invite them to our reunions.

None of this is possible with online courses and I cannot fathom online degrees having anywhere near the weight of a degree from an actual university.  Perhaps some online courses might be useful as supplements to class instruction, but they will never take the place of sitting amongst one's student peers, taking notes and listening to a live professor, taking timed tests and even consulting with a professor late at night.

[One night in particular, in our Senior year, my best friend and I were trying to solve an E&M (Electromagnetic) Fields problem and having some difficulty with it, primarily a difference of opinion as to how to solve it, I think.  We could see from my dorm room that our professor was still in his office on the sixth floor of the  Science Tower (as it was then referred to).  We walked across campus and went upstairs to his office.  He told us that he could give us five  minutes and we dragged ourselves out of there about an hour later.  Believe it or not, this is one of my fondest memories of college.]**

None of the opinions I've expressed, above, address the actual college experience, which I feel is just as important as the learning.  There are parties, living in a dormitory, dining together, playing games together, exchanging comic books, sci-fi novels and music, et cetera, all tremendous influences to one's personal and professional life.   

**  I was in college in exactly the right era for all of this.   This could be an entirely separate Blog Post, which I may write about at another time.   In fact, I might even write about more of  my personal memories, good or bad, about my college days.  Those were perhaps the best years of my life and greatly influenced the rest of my life.  Let me think about it for a while.