A university-level educator makes the case against 'online learning'

I have never been an advocate of online education.

After retiring from the federal government over a span of thirty years, I taught at the college/university level for about ten years as an adjunct professor in criminal justice.

Not anymore.

All of my previous classes were in person, and I could not imagine the subject matter being effectively taught and discussed with my class online.

I was right.

Logistically, none of my classes was fewer than thirty students; some were as large as forty-five students.  All of my classes were interactive.  For example, I would typically start with a lecture, punctuated with intended questions and responses, some from other students, others by me.  The other half of my class time would be spent breaking my students into groups, with a question posed by me and responded to by various students to present their findings and recommendations.

At this point, I would typically ask the other students for their comments, followed by my own.

My classes were purposely once a week, about two and a half hours, with one break.  Two five- to seven-page reports were generally assigned for my review with written feedback, or person-to-person if necessary.  There were typically three exams as well.

I was available before and after every class and by appointment for any student.

An overwhelming majority of students approved of these conditions, as evidenced by their year-end feedback.

Could this kind of human interaction be available online?  Not with a subject as diverse and complex as criminal justice.  Perhaps in other fields, and when pursuing certain Ph.D. degrees, but all would still require some face-to-face interaction in order to get the fullest benefit of higher education. 

With the coronavirus wreaking havoc on so many endeavors, I see the upcoming Spring 2022 calendar as tenuous at best when it comes to the likelihood of students at any level attending classes in person.  I find that thought distressing on so many levels, especially since we are "social animals," and we learn best by doing and interacting — not by staring into a screen.

I don't see real interaction occurring online.  Video delays, poor audio and visual quality, absent body language, singular and mass expressions from others, and distractions are challenges to be considered when using online teaching.  I'm sure some will disagree, but unless you have experienced both, from equally good instructors, I can't see online education being as satisfying, stimulating, or mind-expanding for students or instructors.

There are other serious storms on the horizon for higher education.  How will private institutions, which may cost four times as much as public institutions, offer a superior online education and experience?  They can't. 

In the probable shutdown college/university situation caused by the coronavirus, what next?  How will dorms continue to exist?  Food plans?  Service workers?  Libraries?  Formal and informal activities?  Police and emergency services?  Admissions?  Scholarships?  Budgets?  Fundraising?  Health screenings?  

What to do?

Limit incoming freshmen and transfer students.  Limit class sizes.  Limit the number of classes offered.  Emphasize preventative health measures to students and parents.  Do more testing.  Take a semester (or two) off.  Cut personnel at all levels, including administrators and educators.  Bar formal events such as sports, concerts, and other forms of mass entertainment.  And last, offer online courses only in subjects that relegate human interaction to a minimum. 

Yes, this means that colleges and universities will shrink in size and funding, just like the rest of the economy in this current pandemic (panicdemic?) situation.

Bottom line: Colleges and universities need to seriously re-evaluate what a quality education consists of in an uncertain world.  We must be more creative and innovative, with the understanding that like in a global wartime situation, sacrifices and compromises will have to be made.

Image via Peakpx.

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