Distance learning is not always conducted from a distance. Many students living on campus are opting into online courses, not taking into consideration the strain they may be putting on their intellectual and academic success.
According to the New York Times, online courses have become more prominent in public institutions that are dealing with reduced funding, and USF is among those institutions. Annually, about 84,000 students enroll in more than 2,000 distance learning sections, according to USF’s ECampus website.
Online courses provide obvious benefits to students, such as unlimited enrollment and lower costs. Universities benefit from these cost reductions as well.
Despite these benefits, it is fair to question the disconnect online courses create between students and their professors, as well as their effect on education as a whole.
For students, part of the appeal of online courses is that the work is perceived to be less demanding, yet provides the same amount of credits. However, this may compromise the merit of the degree these students receive.
In-person, an inspiring professor can bring education to life, challenging and pushing students to work harder. With minimal teacher interaction, online courses lack this important attribute.
With such readily available and more compelling options for students to turn to while on their computers, such as the blinking Facebook window at the bottom of their desktop, the focused learning and deep thinking fostered by a traditional classroom environment are lost in online courses.
“What we’re losing in this country and presumably around the world is the sustained, focused, linear attention developed by reading,” Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Education Association, said to the Times.
Most online classes produce online texts, Internet documents and recorded lectures for students to study. These materials leave gaps in the concentration abilities that Gioia mentions.
USF offers literature, language and critical analysis courses that are 100 percent Web based. High literacy is pertinent in all of these courses. It is backward that they are available for full credit online.
Marshall McLuhan, a 1960s media theorist, argued that the way media is received and the way information is channeled shapes the process of thought.
If the ideals of McLuhan hold true, then the medium of the Internet with regard to education and everything else is shaping our generation. Online courses typically consist of assignments and tests that promote mere memorization and leave little room for critical analysis or the debate and production of original ideas.
According to the Sloan Consortium, an Internet education advocacy organization, more than 4.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2008. The numbers continue to grow.
The best learning comes from having opinions opposed in order to develop new ways of thinking. Online learning leaves much unsaid and unquestioned, which is no way to instill progression in students. Students who hope to challenge themselves should think carefully before signing up for online courses this spring.
Tara Petzoldt is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.