An editorial in Sunday’s Boston Globe entitled “As online classes gain acceptance, colleges must adapt” refers to the state of Boston’s economy, basing it’s health on “whether local universities make the right bets about how best to incorporate Internet-based instruction — and whether they can bring their faculties along.” The editorial includes a critique of Suffolk’s recent developments regarding online instruction in lieu of in-classroom time. While the cheaper cost of online education, as well as the unlimited access nature, are definitely pros — it’s still in early stages, backed by a whole lot of hype which could also be perceived as an attempt to profit.
We do not know the lasting effects of online education at this moment, as the trend is in the trial-and-error stage. In a recent New York Times article entitled “Revolution Hits the Universities,” Thomas L. Friedman raves about online courses, citing the possibilities of the future. For example, could you imagine being able to take a class in Cape Town taught by the one and only Noam Chomsky? Now, imagine being able to take the class at your leisure, working it into your already busy schedule instead of working around the class. Education can be brought anywhere, a truly amazing idea which will be executed in our lifetime.
But we were taught differently.
While jumping on online education right now is a practical idea for Suffolk, it will take quite some time before it’s accepted as the norm. Right now, students and faculty will have to learn together — transitioning from in-person learning to looking at a screen. Then again, if there’s one thing our generation seems to love, it’s looking at a screen. Because of the trial-and-error aspect, it is not yet known which subjects will translate well online. While a Babson Survey Research study concluded that one-third of all college students take online courses, there is still the question of whether or not having no set times could lead kids to skip the videos and cram for the exams. There’s hardly any incentive to online courses if you’re already in college: you want your degree, that’s it. With in-person courses, you get to meet personalities, share ideas through discussion, and explore the city around you. Without human interaction, how can you be sure students will be engaged?
Perhaps online education isn’t for those of us who have already taken out tens-of-thousands of dollars in loans. “Elite” schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard have begun to offer online classes for free. A springboard out of poverty. These courses can be taken for “credentials” rather than a degree, but perhaps that will be a change in the post-”degree” world. Perhaps there will be a trend of students swayed away from the high-costs of college in lieu of the little-to-nothing costs of online courses.
Again, we here at The Journal have no clue how online education will change the future, because we haven’t seen it in action yet. As Suffolk takes the necessary steps towards the future, perhaps the question isn’t “How many online courses should we offer?” but, instead, “what makes our online courses work differently, and better, than ones offered at a reduced cost?”