Extending Our Educational Dollars


Budgetary Crisis and Online Education

As schools examine ways to solve this crisis, many will consider adopting online educational programs to reach impacted students.  Distance learning, implemented as online coursework, has many advantages.  Online courses can help educate many more students at the same time for less cost, save gas, and require less parking space on campus.  Also, an online program serves students who are tending to children at home, physically disabled, or located in a geographically-distant area. Distance learning can be presented in multiple languages, reaching people in different countries or diasporas.

The overhead in teaching an online course can be minimal, and at the same time, more comprehensive, taking advantage of software programs to provide visual cues to the lecture material.

Online courses can consist of video of live lectures, video of recorded lectures, reading material, animations, interactive challenges, or a combination of any or all of these.  The courses can be presented via the Internet, through an internal Intranet, or through close-circuit TV.  Online classes can be transmitted live only, or prerecorded to fit the varied schedules of all student.  Lecturers can be campus academics, as well as highly-regarded scholars from other institutions who have been invited to introduce new research in a subject.  Online courses also provide an unique opportunity to capture the lectures of a significant local scholar for posterity.  Grading of homework can be automated to some degree, or assessed personally by graduate students or academic staff.

Distance learning, then, seems intuitive.  However, there are a host of issues which must be resolved to present a truly successful program.  In fact, online programs are already visible worldwide; however, as of yet, no online degree programs carry the same prestige comparable to the most respected “brick-and-mortar” universities.  As a result, any implementation of an online program will influence the reputation of the college or university with it, either advancing or undermining the long-standing reputation of the institution.

Implementing a program of online classes might help solve some of the problems associated with the unavailability of a professor for a particular semester.  However, because upper-division and Masters courses are taken during the stage in which students are considering internship and career options, the disconnect between faculty and student can be problematic.  Faculty and student interaction is critical to the mentoring process, and students look to a faculty member’s reflections on career choices.  Also, many students need letters of recommendation from faculty members in their continuing education.

Introducing “hybrid education” as a form of distance learning can reduce many of the pitfalls in pure online education.  Although a worthwhile solution, distance learning that is not specifically tailored for the target student at a particular institution can have a negative impact on the college’s reputation and the reduce the overall value to degree holders.  For that reason, developing a hybrid model that combines classroom and online instruction may produce more desirable achievements for each and every student.

© 2012 Laurie Mena


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