Sunday, August 31, 2008

E-learning Hangups

As a parent, I grapple with several e-learning issues

1. When I was paying residence fees, it was upsetting to have a student opt to take an e-course over attending classes on campus. The campus is beautiful, the residence is on the actual grounds, you have legs, get to class. However, I didn't say that because a parent has no way of comparing the quality of instruction happening in the classroom with the quality of instruction happening in cyberspace. You'd think actually being in the presence of a professor and classmates would be preferrable to a more impersonal method of delivery but maybe not.

2. It is also disconcerting to agree to pay for a course on campus and have the instructor say on the first day of class that he plans to teach it online. I am also not happy to pay for textbooks and then find that the texts won't be used because the actual course being taught online has nothing at all in common with the description of the course in the academic calendar but the required textbooks remained the same. On the plus side, sometimes I agree to course and find it changed into something totally different that seems too lightweight. To my amazement, it may turn out to have many useful applications and may even be the most memorable course of them all.

3. I now receive daily emails from google using the tag e-learning. Wanting to get my money's worth, I am reading everything I can find on how to get the best educational experience from e-learning. If students are choosing a hodgepodge of full-time, on campus day classes/e-learning/continuing ed adult evening courses, why isn't a explanation provided of the pros and cons of each option and how to maximize the benefits of whichever you choose and best compensate for the weaknesses. There has to be more information than "here's how to get into your blackboard account and I'm sure you'll figure out how to find your assignments and how to submit them".

4. E-learning is supposedly on a boom because it is cheaper in these days of high gas prices. In my dreams. It certainly wasn't cheaper when my daughter was living in residence on campus. And it not cheaper for my son who is living at home because he still needs my car every single day to drive to his on campus classes which are about 35 km away. On the other hand, I'd feel they were missing out if they weren't part of an actual campus experience with a library, cafeteria, an actual classroom with people in it, etc. It's a bit reassuring to think there are actually still teachers who are willing to show up in person to model that some things in the real world are worth inconveniencing yourself to experience.

5. And why didn't I make my kids pay for their own educations. Life is tough enough without beginning it in a deep financial hole. There may never be another period in their lives when they can concentrate on developing the fundamental skills and concepts to be able to learn anything they wish to learn throughout their lives. An education is one of the few gifts that can't easily be lost, discarded or stolen. Writing the cheques means I have the right to expect value for my buck from both my children and from the system both of whom benefit from knowing that I exist and if I ever get upset enough, I might give some honest, heartfelt feedback. It's pretty obvious from the application forms that many of the students are there because the government is trying to lift them out of a difficult situation. The intent is great but it is such an insignificant amount of the government budget that I am not sure the government is as passionate about quality as an actual mother who wishes she could spend a little money on herself once in awhile.

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