It was the 1990s. A brand new age of technology was here. Welcome to the “Information Superhighway.” Pop culture seethed with movies like Sleepless in Seattle where relationships hinged on the AOL trademarked email alert, ‘you’ve got mail!’ Even former Vice President Al Gore was rumored to have invented the internet, when in fact he did have involvement in technical legislation. In those days of technological promise and riches, the new century was met with optimism and anticipation.
Education was at the heart of innovation. ARPANET, the forerunner of the global internet, was hosted and researched by major universities, defence contractors, and government agencies. Famously, Stanford University nurtured the search engine Google and the rest is history. Ironically, the scholarly pencil pushers created the machines that obsoleted the pencil. But will the online environment be as effective in education as the traditional methods of the past? Hard to say, but it certainly true things have changed in education.
The Lights are Out in the Online Forums / Image from energy.gov
Last spring, I took a traditionally lectured English class and this summer, I took an English class online. While I did enjoy both classes thoroughly, I realized that the value I got from education was determined by the effort I put into my coursework. This is because as an adult student, I have the discipline to work hard at everything, derived from my general life experience. Generally speaking, young adults tend not to have the same sense of urgency about education. Online classes demand less of students, and as a result, instead of leveraging the power of the internet, most students embrace the isolation of online classes and become more passive about their studies.
In a traditionally lectured class, at least the instructor could require the students to stand before the class to make a presentation. Not possible with online classes, where isolation is the norm. In a traditionally lectured class, the instructor could challenge the sophomoric utterances of an uninformed student, while in online classes most questions are followed with student responses of “I agree”, “Me too”: an all too well conditioned generation of popular Facebook users following the crowd and not accustomed to critical thinking or debate.
The forums of the online class I took were more concerned with polite agreement, rather than debate. The effect is familiar to anyone using social networking platforms, but is the comfort of consensus too high a price to pay? From my online class forum reading, I was the only participant willing to challenge others with their posts. My peer review of student papers were left ignored without reply for my efforts. Apparently only a light, agreeable touch will hold the attention of these students. In that case, they will find themselves woefully unprepared for the challenges of more demanding classes and the real world of work.