Writing

Thoughts on an On-line Education

Bahaha! Look at this olde school setup. It is not unlike the USM computer lab.

I just got off the phone with USM tech support about a video issue with one of my classes. It’s a simple, 1 credit class. OK, it’s yoga. Yes, I’m paying to take a one-credit college-level yoga class. Don’t judge. Anyhow, the sound on the video sounds like Greedo:

Now, I’m not a tech-idiot. Here’s what I’ve done to fix the situation: Restarted, checked all software for updates, used 3 different browsers, tried to view it on my phone and iPad. Nothing. It doesn’t work. E-mailed the professor. Apparently I’m the only person with this problem.  * Update* Apparently ALL Mac users are having the same issue. Why? Because the professor created the video THREE YEARS AGO.* E-mailed and finally called tech support. You know what the end diagnosis is? My software and computer are TOO new and TOO updated. Fuck me. I mean come on. They told me to find a windows computer and use that. I do not have a windows computer, nor do I want one. I would be less stabby (maybe) if this didn’t happen every semester. Not this problem exactly, but this is now my 6th or 7th online class, my 3rd and final semester with this method of education and I can tell you, the first week is always spent messing around with problems like this. This is a long segue into my critique of online education.

I was so happy to learn that USM was offering a Liberal Arts major online. When I signed up I only had 36 credits left. I’ve been wanting to finish school for awhile, but I have 2 kids and limited time. I wasn’t interested in finishing up at one of the ‘churn and burn’ online schools either. USM seemed like the perfect solution since I’d done nearly all of my classes there anyway. So far my experience has been…OK, but there are some major issues both with tech and with teachers.

NO ONE USES THE SAME TECH

Every one of my classes has required different tech. They also use the ‘Blackboard Gateway’ but from there teachers go bananas. When you fill out the survey to see if online ed is right for you they ask if you are ‘comfortable using a computer on the internet and visiting various websites’ or something like that. Of course you are! What you should know is, you will have to use at least 2 sometimes 3 or more programs for each class. I’ve had teachers require that we watch lectures via Youtube, Quicktime, and worst of all try to run a Power Point presentation and sound via Itunes simultaneously. That was for one class. You may also be required to use VoiceThread, which actually isn’t that annoying, but another new software that you will have to register for and learn how to use. This semester I’m taking a music class that requires your sign up for and pay $85 for an online text-book/course materials. Well, it’s music, that makes sense right? Oh, guess what, you also need Spotify to listen to the music.  I beg you, USM. Please, please, start making your professors use the same tech. Personally, I would suggest having them use: Youtube for video lectures, and VoiceThread for presentations etc. These two seem to work phenomenally well for everyone.  I understand that Online courses will require different materials, videos etc.  That’s great! But let’s try to condense some of this shit. I never know going into a class what software I’m going to need. It’s stressful and detracts from my education.

SOME TEACHERS SUCK

I am very, very fortunate that most of my professors get it when it comes to online ed. They run it like a regular class as much as they can. That means they give a lecture. Sometimes they even give a real-time lecture and students can ask questions and interact in a sort of regular class discussion format. It works very well, and I like it. I have had a couple of professors that I feel have made my classes completely boring and a total waste of money. This is what they did: assigned reading from a text. Assigned a homework from that text. They did not do any online lectures or offer supplemental materials. It actually really pissed me off. It seemed like they were just saying, “Oh this is awesome, I’ll just make a syllabus once and chuck out the assignments. Easy Peasey” In fact one professor couldn’t even be bothered to make sure that she changed the dates on the assignments from the previous semester to the most recent one. Unfortunately since USM has decided to fire all their professors, I’ve noticed that the good ones I’ve had are being replaced by the half-assed ones. Not cool. A good on-line teacher needs to be engaged as much as a real-time teacher. She needs to give lectures. She needs to at least pretend she’s excited about the materials and the students. That makes a good teacher in general.

ONLINE CLASS MEANS ONLINE

OK, this only happened once and it still pisses me off. Last semester I had an online class that required I travel to an onsite location to take an online, proctored, open book exam. That’s right. I could have taken the test at home easily. In fact, the test was administered THROUGH Blackboard. I had to drive to Portland and sit in the computer lab so that I could show the professor my ID and prove that I’m not cheating on this stupid test. It really, really makes me mad. I’m taking an online class because 1. I hate going places. 2. It’s a pain for me to do so. Why did they feel the need to make us drive there? Basically because they think all students are cheaters, I guess. If you don’t trust a group of grown adults to take the test online in an online class, then don’t offer an online class. And don’t be surprised that people are angry when you make them take time out to drive 50 miles to take a test that they could have taken at home.

WORKSHOPS DON’T WORK

I am currently taking an online creative writing class. For a long time I believed that online writing workshops would be great. They aren’t. Sure, people post their work and other people comment on it, but it’s just not the same as real-time workshops. This summer I was able to attend Stonecoast Writers’ Conference, and have some real life workshopping. It was incredibly valuable. The biggest difference is that the online discussion is too nice. Everyone points out what works but no-one has the courage to say what doesn’t. Yes, I’m saying, and I know how weird this is: on-line workshop students are too nice. I also think there is something that happens when a group of people get together in a same room and discuss their writing in person. You have to trust each other not to be jerks, and you’re sitting in the same space as the person you’re critiquing, so you want to give them good, constructive advice. Now, that said, I think it MIGHT be possible for workshops to work if they were done online in real-time conference call style format. I can’t say for sure, because I haven’t participated in a class like that, but I think it might be an OK medium.

GENERAL ADVICE

Some final thoughts:

  • Do not assume that online classes are going to be easier.
  • Get a good printer
  • Get some good PDF reading software. I like Evernote. I like Evernote for a lot of things actually.
  • Make a schedule for all your work. I put it all in Google Tasks.
  • Software that saves to .docx. If you have Word, no problem. If you use Pages or Google Docs it’s kind of a pain but can be done. Just make sure you learn how to do it before your papers are due.
  • Be patient. A lot of your professors are thrown into this and are just learning how to use the tech too.

ASK ME ANYTHING

Got questions about online classes, NOT tech support 🙂 Drop me a comment.

PS. Han shoots first.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on an On-line Education

  1. I took a nutrition class last semester online (required) and it was read from the text, answer these questions, then there was an analysis project due at the end of the semester that needed to be mailed. No biggie except my professor wanted it mailed priority and didn’t release the last part of the assignment until 3 days before it was due (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving) so it ended up costing me $25 to mail it to him….really? There was absolutely no interaction from the professor at all. I thought it was such bullshit. This semester I have 4 online classes and they are already so different…..

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