Hesitant About Doing Classes Online?
Dear Alumni, Current Students, and Potential Students,
Catholic Leader Scholarship recipient Leila Miller posted a brief announcement on her blog about beginning studies at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. One of her readers had a very good comment, one that a lot of people probably have. I want to address it and invite other alumni to share their experiences too.
I am hesitant about doing classes on online, because I worry that I would miss out on the wonderful insights that come from interacting with other students with other perspectives and backgrounds. -Barbara C.
In my opinion, this comment represents one of the significant differences between online and classroom learning. At first I also wondered whether an online classroom could impart knowledge as effectively as a real classroom. You know what I realized? I realized that the physical presence in a room full of people actually hindered my ability to learn. It’s a matter of personality, so I’m only offering Barbara, and anyone else with similar concerns, my perspective. I acknowledge other people may feel differently.
I’m rather introverted, not extremely, but enough so that I learn better in private than in public. There’s a certain pressure to being in public and it is distracting. Classrooms were stressful when I was in elementary school, and more so in junior high because I felt like I had to perform. Classrooms were almost unbearable at times in high school because I was shy. In college, I remember the blood rushing to my cheeks whenever an instructor asked a question, and in that interminable silence that followed as his eyes scanned the crowd, I would hope to be transported miraculously elsewhere, anywhere, to avoid being told to answer a question spontaneously, you know—out loud. Even if I knew the answer, I needed time to think about new material before I was confident giving an answer.
Certainly not every classroom experience is negative. For some subjects, like science labs, art, or music, real life will always be richer than online; but for subjects that require a lot of reading, writing, or computation, learning in private with interactive material to guide you is arguably more effective. There are practical considerations as well. When I started taking courses in theology and philosophy at HACS, I had just given birth to a son, and we had four small daughters and one teenager still at home. It was a good to be able to log in privately any time of day and think about the assignment at my own pace, in between repairing diaper blow-outs, refilling sippy cups, refereeing sister fights, or folding 47-million pairs of underwear. It was good to be able to take a short break in my office or get up early in the morning, sit at the computer, and read or write something that benefited my faith and helped me remember what all this mommy stuff is ultimately about. If going to school had required me to spend time getting dressed, driving, parking, walking to class, sitting in class, and traveling back home, pursuing a degree would have been absolutely 100% out of the question. From home, with guidance from professors through the internet, I learned my way, amusing as it was some days.
That’s the thing: Online learning puts the responsibility to learn almost completely in the learner’s lap. The professor structures the course before it even starts, and mainly guides the student through it with feedback and instruction. Every student is exposed to the same material, and each student is responsible to engage the material, appropriate the content, and demonstrate mastery.
Do I feel like there was adequate interaction from other students with different perspectives and backgrounds? Yes, when such interaction is useful, the professors can initiate discussion online and manage it. When I’m socializing, I enjoy face-to-face talk, but when I’m learning, it’s different. I prefer time to deliberate. I appreciated that with online learning I could formulate my responses carefully and say what I wanted to say with some precision. My classmates probably didn’t even know there was usually a little boy flying a plane over my face or sleeping sweetly in my arms.
Your turn. What were your experiences? Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to share your perspective with potential or current students, and we’ll post it here. Pictures are welcome!
Blessed Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord,
President of the Alumni Association