Online Education is Just Education


(upbeat electronic music) – The first time a complete
stranger gave me a hug, I was a little taken aback,
but that only lasted until she told me her name, Heidi, and then I immediately knew who she was. Heidi had been a student in
the very first online course that I had ever taught,
and as I soon realized, we weren’t strangers to each other. We had just never met before. Anecdotes like this are
becoming more and more common as online education becomes
a bigger and bigger part of the landscape of higher education. I, myself, am the director
of a completely online doctoral program in
curriculum and instruction here at Texas A&M, and
the picture that you can see behind me is from
one of our orientations in which students and faculty attend, both by video conference and
by robot, but also in person. Given this growth in online education, as well as from a desire
to improve the quality of our own online courses,
my colleague, Ambyr Rios, and I decided that we
wanted to look more into what makes a good online course. And that’s the research that I would like to share with you today. Some statistics that
can help us understand this issue a little bit better. Across the country, there are now about one million fewer students enrolled in brick and mortar, or
face-to-face, campuses. Of course, that’s not a
problem that we’re having at Texas A&M, as anyone who’s ever tried to park on campus can tell you. (laughs) There are also about three
million more students who are now enrolled in
fully online programs as part of their college degrees and one out of every
three college students will now take at least
one fully online course as part of their experiences. So given all that was going on, we really wanted to look at what it is that makes a good online course. Our findings, based on
some research and surveys that we did with students,
tended to cluster around two areas, of visibility
versus invisibility. There are some things that
students thought should really be invisible, as part of an online course, but then there were other things that they really thought ought
to be highly visible and the very first finding
that jumped out at us was how little our students
actually distinguished between online and face-to-face courses. It seemed as though this
generation was so accustomed to dealing with
interactions with people who they really never met, that
to them, an online course and a face-to-face course
weren’t that different. So, they looked at an online course in just the way they would
look at any other course. What was the syllabus like? What were the grading policies? And what did it take to make an A? The platform that made this
entire experience possible was something, to them, that
pretty much stayed invisible and they were pretty happy
for it to be that way, but in every other area, they
highly preferred visibility over invisibility,
whether that be in terms of faculty engagement,
interactions with other students, or engagement with the content. In terms of faculty
engagement, what we found was that our faculty were
the ones who hesitated to make themselves visible. They were afraid that,
if they created a video or other product for their students, that it wouldn’t be quite perfect, that their dog would run
in in between and bark, and then it wouldn’t be quite right for them to share publicly. Our students, however,
highly preferred authenticity over perfection, like they
said they would much rather have a video filled with bloopers than the spectacle of a faculty member who was like a ghost, who
just appeared once in a while, dropped some grades on a
platform, and then disappeared. So, that was not the kind of
interaction that they wanted. Similarly, they talked about
wanting to have interactions with other students, even
though it was online. Sometimes, they complained
that it was a little difficult to set up a meeting with other students, that it was hard to
schedule and it was hard for everyone to get together,
but in the long run, they really talked about how much it helped them learn better
when they had opportunities to interact with their peers. And finally, in terms of content, and this was perhaps the most interesting, they made it very clear
that the online platform was not this neutral vacuum from which they could download information. They expected the online
space and the online place to be an area where they
could have interactions and discussion and dialogue
and learn from their faculty, as well as from each other. To them, online education
was just education. Thank you. (audience applauds) (calm music)

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