What Colleges and Universities Need: More Online Classes!
Like many students, I struggled throughout high school with math. I was labeled by teachers as someone who “just wasn’t able” to learn the complex rules of numbers. One of them actually suggested I had a learning disability. So when I reached college I decided on Art as a major. As for math, I had only one goal: forgo “general college math” and take College Algebra, a much more difficult class.
All students are different, but sometimes it feels like school tries to turn us into drones.
I failed the course twice…and this after taking 2 zero-level prerequisites. Each time I wondered if I really did have something wrong with me; maybe I should just stop trying something I’ll never succeed in. But then, finally, I decided to take it online.
And guess what? I passed the online College Algebra class…with a high B! The class boosted my confidence so much that I changed my major from Art to Environmental Science, a math-heavy program. I looked forward to my next math classes – Trig, then Calculus and beyond.
That class made me realize something: I wasn’t bad at math at all. In fact, I was actually kind of good at it! But my kinesthetic learning style made traditional class settings torturous. I had gone through high school thinking I had some kind of problem when in fact I just processed information differently than most students. But with the online class, I was able to meet with other students in a no-pressure environment [the campus library], study at the gym, and do a myriad of other things that helped me learn – all of which would have been difficult or impossible if I had been in a typical lecture-based class.
Online classes enable us to work to our strengths.
Colleges and universities could serve a diverse population in this way: those who travel frequently [for example, as part of their job]; those with chaotic schedules; housebound individuals [new parents, the chronically ill]; disabled individuals; and non-native English speakers.
Despite this, some of the professors I have spoken to about this issue are reticent. One of their recurring fears is that students will cheat. But innovative solutions to academic dishonesty abound. Proctored on-campus exams and tools like Browser Lockdown are already used by some online classes.
Others say that students take online classes to “skate through,” that these classes are easier. But this just isn’t true. It depends on the course and the professor. Many options exist to create a more challenging online class:
- Graded online discussions: contrary to popular belief, learning is not a solo pursuit. [This is especially true with math!] Discussions and idea-sharing enhance the learning experience and lead to epiphanies. Plus, it can be fun talking to other students about what you’ve learned and discussing things that are puzzling.
- Have students keep a “math journal.” This is something I’ve been doing since starting College Algebra. It’s a creative technique that allows students to think about the process of learning, note their struggles, and detail things that intrigue them. Journals like this could be kept for subjects other than math: chemistry, physics, and other science classes would all benefit from this.
A page from my algebra journal
- Research projects: individually or assigned to groups, research projects encourage students to creatively solve problems and delve deeper into the material.
- Pop quizzes: ensure students stay on their toes and keep up with coursework.
Plus, online classes are potentially much cheaper than traditional classes. If a program like My Math Lab is used, students don’t have to buy a dead-tree text book because an electronic copy is included. And with the class being online instead of on campus, that’s one more room free for a different class. Of course, there are schools which are completely online, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. Having an actual campus with professors you can talk to face-to-face is important. Furthermore, government financial aid is scarce for these kinds of schools.
Online classes are not for everyone. But students are not carbon copies of each other with the exact same learning style, capabilities, desires, and needs.
Many college students are already accomplished autodidacts and would thrive in a more self-directed learning environment. For those who desire and are capable of it, the self-directed learning environment online classes offer is empowering, fulfilling, and engaging — not to mention worthwhile academically.