October 12, 2020
It’s time to figure out how to make it more effective.
As we enter our second online semester, it’s time to stop thinking of remote learning as a crisis-prompted expedient. It will not go away as soon as a vaccine appears.
Online learning is going to be a permanent fixture in how institutions deliver high-demand lower-division undergraduate introductory courses. We need to face up to the challenges.
As much as many undergraduates complain about the quality of current online courses, at least as many who work, commute or care for others appreciate online learning’s convenience and flexibility. It’s a particularly popular option for students who regard required courses as boxes to be ticked off.
For all that’s lost when faculty and students interact remotely, something is gained in well-designed, highly interactive online classes that feature personalized adaptive courseware; online tutorials; synchronous interactive lectures with frequent polls, surveys, questions and answers, and whiteboard sessions; and breakout groups.
Remember: for students who sit in the back rows of an auditorium, every large face-to-face lecture class is a distance ed course.
If we see remote learning as part of a permanent restructuring of how higher education is delivered, rather than as a stop-gap response to an emergency, we need to address the four horsemen of the online apocalypse:
Isolation: How to transform an online class into a community.
Engagement: How to keep students motivated and on track.
Rigor: How to ensure student learning outcomes and academic honesty.
Quality: How to make sure that online courses meet minimal standards for accessibility and usability, learner support, interactivity, and robust assessment.