Sunday, June 14, 2009

What's wrong with online courses?

I have always had my doubts about the effectiveness of online video lectures (except perhaps for a small number of highly motivated and dedicated students). But, how about online courses? I have never taught (nor taken) any; nor have I done any video courses. But I have been interested in learning more about what works and what doesn't (in both live, online courses and video lectures); if you know of any online resources, do let me know.

In the meantime, here's a teacher's perspective on online courses. While the negative experiences she recounts arise from other sources (money, for example), here's one about the online experience:

2. The lack of immediacy in communication is maddening. I met my British husband 38 years ago when we both worked in Washington. When his job ended and he returned to London during a tenuous time in our relationship, it took us at least seven days to have a conversation, let alone an argument. (Those were not only pre-computer days; overseas phone calls were still considered a luxury.) I revisited that experience every time I read and responded to students' posts, waiting to see what they would say the next time I heard from them, all the while worrying that my feedback might be misinterpreted and thus hurtful or confusing. I can think of no more important place for immediate communication to occur than in a classroom where difficult subjects are being discovered and debated. It is essential, in my view, that a teacher be able to probe, clarify, comment in the moment. That moment is lost in a virtual community.

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Hat tip to University World News.


  1. L said...

    People always malign the old "chalk and talk" method, but I cannot teach unless I see students' faces. Online courses must be very difficult to teach.

  2. banerjee said...

    I've taught one course over video. The course had about 10 students in-class and 15 remote students. The advantage was that the in-class students could see the videos and fill in portions during which they had lost their concentration. The disadvantage was that I had to be extra careful to repeat questions that the in-class students asked. The remote students, of course, could not ask questions in real time.

    Talking to a camera with a microphone is a skill that takes some effort to master.

  3. Nachi said...

    I have used video lectures by Prof. Bernhardt Wuensch for crystallography. I found it as a very good supplement for the normal classes and was surprised seeing the striking differences in the style and way of teaching used by different people on similar courses. The advantage with this is that after you have some basic knowledge (by reading text books) if you listen to these lectures you get in-depth knowledge. Primary advantage of these supplementary lectures is that (a) you can attend classes at what ever time and place you want, (b) you can skip the basic stuffs you think is easy to understand or repeat concepts that are difficult. This also helps in covering up for the time in actual class which you were not very attentive.

    I found this method very useful, but I didn’t do this for remaining course that I did, as I was not able to find video lectures (or I didn’t have enough patience to look it up in the net). But these lectures should be supplementing class room teaching and can’t replace them.


  4. srks said...

    I watched few Physics and mathematics lectures from MIT. They are amazing. Student will not feel any difficulty in following that. Lecturers can watch these kind of lectures, and can take inspiration from those, to teach in a better way.

    As per me teaching is an area where one has to do lot of research in teaching in an innovative way, so that the audience(students) won't like to leave the lecture hall. Teaching should not be a routine.

    I strongly feel that unless, these lectures are there online, I could not have had the opportunity to watch some of the best lectures.