Online classes need significant overhaul

in Editorial/Opinion by

One big critique of the government is it’s inefficient. There’s a duplication of resources, delays in responses and other frustrating features. Those are legitimate criticisms. No organization, public or private is perfect.  

The public university system in the United States is competing with itself, not just state-to-state, but intrastate for students. In a bid to become more competitive and efficient, online learning has exploded in recent years, including the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (my alma mater) and St. Cloud State University. Unfortunately, online learning lags behind traditional classroom learning in a big way. 

However, there are benefits to online learning. It has freed up a significant number of students to achieve postsecondary education for the first time. It has democratized information. It has opened up a new web of opportunity for literally the entire world. 

That being said, there are not many guides on how to run a great online class. Most of them revolve around doing glorified book reports or answering multiple choice tests after a chapter. That isn’t learning to me; that’s just reading and thinking. In-class discussions, on the other hand, involve dialogue between professors and students and unpacking those same ideas covered in the texts.  

The role of the university is not just to educate, but to challenge students to the limits of their intellectual capacity, understanding of society and the identity of oneself. I will maintain the superiority of traditional learning until online learning overtakes it. How it might, I don’t know. Universities are not dusty old institutions, but vibrant places of intellectual discussion, cultural exchange, and social development. 

It’s not enough for universities to simply have online options for class. Rather, these classes should seek to recreate some of the dialogue that exists in the traditional settings. Recorded lectures, standardized online meeting times, and in-depth exploration ought to be staples of online learning. Without these key features, online learning is reduced to those same glorified book reports.