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Signing in Instead of Walking in: The New Normal of Education

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tosha Wilson-Davis
August 17, 2018

The Future of Education: Click and Enter

A computer, internet connection, username and password are all you need to tap into your college education. Online education has continued to evolve and is becoming more and more prevalent for even ivy-league universities, which seems quite fitting for what society has termed as Generation Z. Forbes.com states that Generation Z, “just as the Millennials before them, this generation is disrupting the way learning happens in higher education. But these differences go beyond just a greater dependence on technology. Generation Z tend to embrace social learning environments, where they can be hands-on and directly involved in the learning process. They expect on-demand services that are available at any time and with low barriers to access.”  As such, college instructors are forced to change their ways. No more dry erase boards, lectures or using a red pen to grade papers.

Uploads and Downloads: No More Pen and Paper

Thinking outside the box may sound like a cliché, but it is imperative to keep up with the demands of online education. Watching an instructor via Blackboard Collaborate, reviewing videos, responding via discussion forums, interacting with an online librarian and uploading of assignments is the new normal. According to Aibworld.net, “In 2015 the e-learning market had an estimate of $166.5 billion with an expectation to increase to a whopping $255 billion within a one-year period. In addition, a Global Shapers Survey conducted in 2016 showed that approximately 17,000 young people from across the world took online courses in the past.”

K-12 Getting Involved in Online Education

Think about the Dual Enrollment programs many universities and colleges have implemented in the past few years. These programs allow secondary education students to enroll in online courses while attending high school, which ultimately give them an opportunity to “test drive” online college courses and a head start to obtain college credit. Furthermore, due to federal and state budget cuts and even the recent school shootings, online education may be taking a front seat rather than being viewed as an alternative.

Global Access

Online education makes higher education accessible to everyone — a global phenomenon. Most universities and colleges offer what they refer to as fully-online Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s and even Doctoral programs. These programs offer all courses online and the student does not have to visit a physical campus location until graduation, and even then, that is optional.  Many students are from all walks of life, including both traditional and non-traditional students, and are from different geographical areas, which is why online education is so lucrative and now in high demand.

Drawbacks to Online Education

Yes, online education has some great advantages including one of the most notable ones being its accessibility. However, there are some drawbacks which include internet connection issues during test time, learning the online learning management system or LMS, and the solitary feeling of being alone in cyberspace and lack of time management. Based on an article by Elearningindustry.com, two of the top five common problems faced by students in eLearning include adaptability struggle and technical issues.

However, self-motivation and time management made the list as well, and it is this area in which college instructors play a vital role. How so? One motto is to “be visible while being invisible.” An online instructor’s participation drives student participation so setting the example on what is expected in the discussion forums is key. This may include posting a sample response that meets the discussion forum guidelines and will serve as a model to students. Also, constant outreach via email to individual students to discuss their progress or the lack of is crucial.

Improving Online Education

As mentioned, there are some disadvantages to online education that need to be addressed — but there are also ways to improve. One way is hiring instructors who embrace an ethics of care methodology. Ethics of care in education, especially online education, has been proved to increase student motivation and student performance. The ethics of care theory is attributed to the works of American feminist, educationalist ad philosopher, Nel Noddings, who asserts that a caring relationship between teacher and students yields positive results that allows actual learning to take place. How so? Reaching out to students you notice are falling behind or may be struggling due to balancing school and personal issues, constant engagement with students in the discussion forums, and providing meaningful feedback during grading are all ways for online instructors to boost student motivation and performance.

Finally, improving online education includes constant evaluation of online programs for accountability and effectiveness. Some institutions have implemented peer online observation and mentor programs to monitor and promote excellence in teaching. Online Learning Consortium Inc. states, “Penn state has a process for peer review of online courses that can be adapted easily. The emphasis of their process is on holistic feedback, looking for places where faculty members make themselves accessible using the digital tools, assignments and spaces that encourage student interaction, opportunities for active learning, methods and speed of feedback, and other signs of an engaged online classroom.” Such programs are necessary for moving online education forward and keeping it kosher.

Author: Tosha Wilson-Davis, MPA, MSCJ, Justice Studies Department Chair/Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Georgia Military College [email protected]

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