Online education will see expansion at USM

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Posted on October 15, 2012 in Uncategorized
By Andrew Henry

Online education is alive and thriving both at USM and across the country. In fact, it’s so successful here at USM that the board of trustees has proposed expanding USM’s adult and online education sectors. Is there a chance, though, that the proposed plan would have negative repercussions on more standard, in-class learning? –Not necessarily.

For the longest time, I was afraid of online classes. I have taken courses in the classroom my whole life, and the idea of learning without person-to-person interaction seems silly. However, after my first online class in the summer 2010, I have since taken 4 online courses. As a future teacher, I can see how polarizing this issue is, but the expansion of online learning won’t detract from the standard, lecture-type learning that has become a classroom standard. It’s to offer a variety of classes at USM with different styles of learning. There are unique benefits to each type of learning, in-class and online.

In-class education offers interaction with the professor and classmates that online education simply can’t match. Peer-to-peer interaction is crucial for students to learn skills in interpersonal communication, and being present in class helps students practice valuable skills such as active listening and note taking. Discussion with other students in a class is nearly a universal college experience. This is the standard for basic classroom learning, and for as long as the idea of college has existed, it has been a staple and a tradition of getting a college education.

But just because online classes can’t provide these things doesn’t mean that students should avoid them. Online classes are a different animal altogether. They are an exercise in time management and discipline, skills that are immensely important for adult life. Online classes often require postings on a class discussion board, where students talk about their findings in a particular chapter via a prompt from the professor. These posts are due at a fixed point in the week, and the student decides when to do them. This extended time gives the student a longer period in which to formulate an articulate, well thought-out response.

I find that the best learning experience involves a combination of both in-class and online education. The discipline required for online classes reinforces my work ethic for in-class lectures, and I have more time to do my assignments. My time management skills have improved vastly since I started taking online courses, something that comes in handy when students gets stressed by things like busy schedules or finals week. The various downsides to each type of education, such as “listen for a straight hour” lectures in class or the lack of face-to-face interaction online, don’t have negative effects on one another so the student gets the best of both worlds.

USM’s expansion of online education has it’s benefits, for sure. With the expansion, we have the potential to improve enrollment in addition to offering education to a wider variety of students, and people who take strictly in-person classes wouldn’t suffer any consequences because of this expansion. It’s not a transfer of focus from in-class to online education, but rather a way to offer more, varying classes to USM students in an attempt to better their personal learning experience. If enrollment went up, USM would make money, which means we can put that money back into improving the University, something that every student should agree on. In a technological age, it only makes sense to bolster our online portfolio of courses, especially with minimal consequences involved. We can now say that the pen, and keyboard, are mightier than the sword.