Colleges Push for Online Classes as Budgets Decrease

In a recent New York Times article, we find that colleges such as The University of Florida are experiencing heavy budget cuts, forcing teachers to push their classes online. With some teachers responsible for 1500+ students in a single semester, it appears the only option is to stream lectures online while students sit back and watch the show from the comfort of their own home. Is this the future we’ve been waiting for with technology finally streamlining life, reducing concerns like arriving on time, what to wear, where to sit, etc? Or is technology actually deluding one of the most valued experiences of a higher education — personal interactions?

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You wake up, brush your teeth, make a pot a coffee, open up your laptop, and class begins. What could be wrong with that? The teacher sits in a small room with a camera that is manually controlled, switching the focus between him or her and the whiteboard. Obviously this satisfies budget concerns by requiring minimal space for class and increasing the student to teacher ratio. But where is the interaction? The heated debates between students and teachers? What is preventing the kids from flipping TV channels or making some breakfast while the teacher is lecturing? Obviously this new technology is fun and interesting, but it seems to undercut some valuable fundamentals that students must learn while in the college environment.

Tony Wagner is a major name in school reform. In his recent book The Global Achievement Gap, he argues it is necessary for students to have 7 basic skills in order to succeed in our new economic climate. Many of these skills, including effective oral communication and collaboration, are being completely lost through this new medium. Yes students have an opportunity to write-in a question through a dialogue box during the video stream, but this doesn’t encourage the fast-paced discussions that circle a classroom once a hot topic is reached. Students are loosing opportunities to develop effective communication skills. Additionally, due to their physical separation, they are loosing the experience of collaborative interactions. They can’t share notes in class or work on a problem presented together. We’re teaching students to learn and interact through a computer, and slowly removing principle notions of a college classroom or even campus.

Obviously our motivations here at Unplggd are to bring you the latest and greatest in technology news, products, and life integration. But not every step technology takes is necessarily a step forward and we believe it is important to highlight both the advances in tech as well as its flaws. What do you think about this new system of teaching? Are they digitizing and secluding the college experience? Has anyone here participated in online classes before? Have you found it to be effective? Ineffective? We would love to know.

While on the subject of college life and tech, here are some other topics that might help the aspiring students get by:
Modular Fridges: A Great Way to Share a Fridge in A Dorm
The Perfect Dorm Room: Tech Any Student Would Love
10 Rules of Thumb for Picking the Perfect College PC

(1st image: Brian, Flickr name: Brian Lane Winfield Moore, 2nd image: Flickr name: tripu)

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