Online Classrooms Have Advantages, Require Motivation


Students in the Macklin Tower work on the library computers. — Photo by: Allie Heidel

Original: March 8, 2011 Issue 12

By: Alexandra Weidt

Staff Writer

Students in the Macklin Tower work on the library computers. -- Photo by: Allie Heidel


Online teaching is increasingly common at higher education institutions, in the forms of hybrid courses that offer a combination of in-person and online instruction, as well as solely online courses or “distance learning.” It allows students and teachers flexibility in their learning and teaching schedules. But how exactly is it possible to take traditional teaching to the internet without risking a loss of quality?

According to the Illinois Online Network (ION), there are multiple teaching methods and strategies which can be adapted to foster a better online learning environment.

ION suggests a learning contract, a formal agreement between learner and instructor, to discuss expectations and goals and how they will be accomplished. This is especially effective for online teaching because an in-class discussion about these important issues is not possible.

The most frequently used teaching method is the lecture. Online lectures can either be summarized in a packet of notes or presented via audio or video on the internet. They are usually shorter and more concise than in-class lectures, and they are available for students to reread at any time.

While the lecture is the most traditional teaching method for online adult education, the discussion is most favoured. It is organized either in real time, using a chat room, or via forum.

Both encourage active learning as much as an in-class discussion, although some believe online discussions lack the personal in-class dynamic which often has a strong influence on the outcome of a discussion.

Small group work within chat rooms or forums, online projects or case studies, which can be presented online on web pages, is also very important to a well balanced online learning environment. Moreover an online class demands self-directed learning to a high degree. Students have to initiate and manage their learning independently.

The online instructor becomes more of a mentor who guides rather than provides knowledge. Therefore successful students must be very engaged in their own learning process.

Montgomery College offers a variety of online classes for students who need very flexible class schedules. Professor Joan Naake is one of MC’s online instructors. English Professor Naake has been teaching online for almost 10 years but also teaches face-to-face classes on campus. Considering her teaching experience in both settings, Naake can bring some interesting insights to this topic.

In her opinion, “there are advantages to both types of teaching and learning.” The advantage of online teaching is its flexibility for students with time constraints. “For example, if a student is a parent or works outside of the home all day, she can do the work at a time that is convenient for her. In addition, if a student is ill or physically disabled, he can still ‘attend’ class and receive a degree,” she said.

Naake’s preference is still teaching face-to-face classes, “Since it easy to have a chat before or after class, or I can review some difficult problems with students in my office.” However, Naake says it is still possible to get to know students online through their papers, discussion board posts, and emails. She also holds conferences with them on the phone.