Going the distance with education

The popularity of distance education programs is on the rise in many states. It allows individuals with busy schedules, full time jobs, or those who live in remote areas to get a steady education. Though it is a good alternative for many, there have been concerns on whether something is lost in that distance, like the importance of being present, punctuality, and social development.

Is our comfort with the Internet slowly allowing us to devalue traditional human interaction?

Would an increase in online education be a move in the right direction, or something that will ultimately leave many ill equipped?

“As with all new trends, there are gains, and then there are losses,” said professor Elham Gheytanchi, who teaches an online Sociology class at Santa Monica College. “As an educator, I have been surprised at the level of class participation in online classes. Whereas in our classes on the ground there are always students who shy away from speaking out, online classes are filled with student responses, and everyone participates.”

According to Professor Darryl-Keith Ogata, who teaches Speech 5 Interpersonal Communication at SMC, there appears to be certain types of students that do very well with online classes; those who are more conscientious or do things in a timely matter.

Other students, that are typically more divergent thinkers, have to learn how to meet certain deadlines in order to be successful in online classes.

Ogata also said that from a communication standpoint, mediated communication education, communication through the internet, media, texting, emailing, and chat rooms can be very successful if a lot of thought and planning is put into it.

“I think sometimes people believe that technology is a savior and will come and help us to learn to do new things, but if it’s not thought out well, how you set-up, how the curriculum is presented, then it can be very difficult,” said Ogata.

Juliet Roberts, who grew-up training as a gymnast and did primarily distance education in her youth, feels that ultimately her distance education created little difference socially between herself and her traditional school counter parts.

But given the option, she said, “I would pick going to class.

I definitely believe that their are a lot of benefits to distance learning, like if you have a job that conflicts with scheduling, distance education can be great.

Personally, I like the social aspect of going to class and seeing the teacher face to face and having them explain things orally, rather than simply just reading the book myself.”

As to whether our comfort with the Internet is slowly allowing us to devalue traditional human interaction, professor Ogata believes that concerns about technological advances in communication hurting us are mostly anecdotal. “Whether or not there really is strong evidence that it is hurting us, I don’t know,” he said, though he has noticed a marked shift in student’s writing styles.

“I’ve seen it in the classroom. You see students messages, how they write very lean, you give them a long essay and they are just going to directly answer the question while not providing any illustrations, examples, or any long kind of explanation,” said Ogata.

No doubt the result of Twitter’s 140 character limit and a constant stream of social media updates.

But if new forms of communication have given way to a more concise writing style, then perhaps this could be a boon, as others see it not as an issue of technology, but of individual style.

“I just think we should bear in mind that the Internet is a means a medium that students can choose to use. While it has many advantages, students should not forget that discipline is still needed, and online classes require hard work on their part. As educators, we also need to constantly update ourselves and stay current with technology so we can use it more effectively in our classrooms,” said Gheytanchi.

Distance education offers more pros than cons, from allowing more comfort in communication through the written word, to a higher focus on self-motivation and keeping up with deadlines.

You can’t see the smiling face that accompanies an instructor’s praise, or experience the shared anxiety when a big test is returned to the class.

But when it comes to distance education, the success of the individual as well as whether actually attending class or taking a class online is better, all depends on how well the curriculum is presented and on the individual student.

As for a student’s social well being, though with distance education some social aspects are lost, there are more than enough social networking sites working to make up the difference.

OpinionSports EditorComment