A MOOC point
The University is right to pursue online education and the tremendous opportunities it presents
Following in the footsteps of Stanford University, the University of Michigan and Princeton University, the University has recently announced its plans to offer online courses. The adoption of online learning appears to be one of the new reforms University leaders plan to implement in order to ensure that the University remains on par with other high caliber universities. In fact, one of the motivations behind adopting such a program was that other universities, such as the aforementioned ones, adopted online courses as a part of their academic objectives.
Clearly, such online programs are still at their preliminary and experimental stages, and the University appears to be somewhat cautious in this pursuit. As of now, there will be a total of four courses offered in areas such as physics, philosophy and history. They are free and at the very most require a computer and Internet access. The courses are also offered on a non-credit basis and will be established with the help of Coursera. Coursera is a for-profit company which has helped established online programs to enhance learning and provide greater academic opportunities in more than 190 countries.
While there is a lot of skepticism regarding online courses, I think it might be a wise decision for the University to pursue online learning in order to expand the academic opportunities at the University. Online learning can offer a wide range of academic benefits. In order to take full advantage of online learning, however, the University must eventually be willing for online classes to count for credit. At the moment, the University refuses to offer academic credit for the class because part of the logic behind the program is to make knowledge more freely and widely available. It is undeniably a noble cause, but there is little moral harm in offering some of the classes for academic credit. To allocate certain classes for academic credit would be advantageous for the students, and at the same time, would not necessarily distract the University from its noble objectives.
Yet there are still some important concerns regarding online learning. One concern is the often reduced and/or minimal interactions between professors and students. Sometimes the online courses are designed in such a manner that does not allow for significant face-to-face interaction. In some cases, there really is no solution to this problem because in classes where students might be from anywhere in the world, face-to-face interaction is impractical.
Though online learning is by no means perfect, it could be used to supplement what is taught in the classroom. For example, in UVaToday, J. Milton Adams, the vice provost for academic programs, argues that online courses can be designed in such a manner where students can do preliminary work via online lectures and activities prior to class, and then the instructors can use the actual lecture for greater interaction with the students. Currently, many professors do require students to prepare certain material prior to class, but online learning could enhance that concept. At the University, where many of the classes are large and professor-student interaction can be difficult, this could be an opportunity for there to be greater discussion between professors and students.
Other concerns include the quality of online courses. Can an online course be as effective as the traditional method of teaching? Whether or not an online course is effective really depends on the program itself, and how it is designed. At the beginning, there might very well be technical problems or other flaws, but as the technology improves and online courses becomes more common the quality of the program will likely improve.
Because the online program is still in its initial stages, my ideas may appear far-fetched, and it is difficult to know anything certain. Online courses are not perfect, nor should they completely replace a traditional classroom setting. That said, there is a lot of potential with online learning which could significantly enhance education not only at the University, but all over the world. It is certainly an interesting and important avenue for the University to explore in its endeavor to continuously improve the educational experience for students.
Fariha Kabir’s column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.