Sorry, but online teaching is of limited value in many subjects

I have never been an advocate of online education.

After retiring from the federal government over a span of 30 years, I taught at the college/university level for about 10 years as an Adjunct Professor in Criminal Justice.

Not anymore.

All of my previous classes were in-person, and given the subject matter (Criminal Justice) I was teaching, I could not imagine it being effectively taught and discussed with my class online.

I was right.

Let me explain.  Logistically, none of my classes were less than 30 students, some were as large as 45 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 by a rotating student 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 one-half hours, with a break in-between.  Two, 5 to 7-page reports were generally assigned for my review with written feedback.  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 scenarios, as evidenced by their year-end feedback.

Could this kind of human interaction be available online?  Not in my opinion 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 with so many endeavors, I see the upcoming Spring 2022 calendar to be tenuous at best for students at any level to attend 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, distractions, are examples 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 can private institutions, which may cost four times as much as public institutions, possibly offer a superior online education/experience?

They can't.

In the probable shut-down 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?  Fund-Raising?  Health screenings? 

What to do?

Limit incoming Freshman 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 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 reevaluate 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 war-time situation, sacrifices and compromises will have to be made.

Graphic credit: Pixabay license

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