Keep lessons in the classroom

By Brianna Wellen

By now, it’s obvious that technology is making strides in college classrooms. Assignments are turned in digitally, top of the line equipment is available for improved educational methods and we’re really only a few steps away from robots taking over all teaching responsibilities.

But technology is also making it possible for more students to avoid classrooms altogether. According to a study recently released by the Babson Survey Research Group, 6.1 million students enrolled in online classes in 2010, the highest amount to date.

I have taken online classes in the past and am all for integrating technology in the classroom, but personal interaction and face-to-face education are too valuable to abandon completely.

Two notable institutions—Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology—have implemented online programs available to those not enrolled or accepted to the schools.

While opening up the educational experience to others is admirable, part of the appeal of taking the caliber of classes offered at schools such as Stanford and MIT is interacting with professors and classmates. To say you watched a two-hour lecture online from MIT hardly seems as impressive as being actively involved in a lesson with other MIT students and a noted professor challenging you in class. In fact, students learning from a two-hour online lecture will rarely get the same knowledge and comprehension from a course as students asking questions of their instructors and participating in discussions with other students to fully grasp concepts and explore new ideas.

My own experience with online classes at Columbia has proved this theory correct. The two classes I had experience with were both writing classes and therefore feedback from teachers and classmates alike was an integral part of the experience. Even with online forums and email communication, the back and forth of exploring ideas in a classroom setting can’t be as effectively achieved. The increasing trend of attending college completely online robs students of the interactions and experience needed to be on the same level as their peers when looking for jobs.

A recent ranking of online degree programs by U.S. News & World Report completely ignored this aspect of online courses. While the report praised teacher credentials and student services of certain programs, it ignored retention rates, employment placement and loan debt of all online degree programs in its rankings. To justify the shift to the Web, institutions should have a way to make the classes just as effective as meeting in a physical classroom.

Educators should embrace technology; it is a valuable tool that can greatly aid the classroom. But without students meeting in person, exchanging ideas and challenging each other, everyone seeking a college degree will become an information-spewing robot, not an educated member of society.