how is a class room better than a computer?

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by viper88, Aug 25, 2003.

  1. viper88

    viper88 New Member

    For those of you who have studied on line, have you gotten the same benefits from interacting with students and faculty on line as you would in a traditional class room?

    Maybe a more important question is: what are the benefits of interacting with a traditional class full of students and a teacher, and can one also obtain these benefits on line?

    Another way of putting this is: what is the role of a teacher in ones education and how do they enhance what one reads in a textbook outside of class.

    comments appreciate

  2. g-gollin

    g-gollin New Member

    Part of the highly-recommended (but not absolutely required) physics curriculum at the University of Illinois is participation in research. Most of our undergraduates who go on to graduate school do lab work with faculty.

    Sure, it's not practical for a distance learning student to invest in lab infrastructure, but I want to comment on a different aspect of the laboratory experience. Since we're constantly working with systems we understand poorly at best, the natural state for a research physicist is confusion and befuddlement. (If we understood them we wouldn't be investigating them in our labs.) The process through which one goes from incomprehension to understanding is hard to describe, but we (experimental scientists) all figure it out after a while. The collaborative work with our students is a bit like an apprenticeship. Part of what they learn comes from helping us tackle problems we don't understand and seeing how we (with better developed intuition) wrestle them into submission.

    Doing physics isn't something for which an algorithmic approach (finding the big crank and turning it vigorously) works; much of what we do is driven by intution, with the mathematics and rigor brought in at the final stages when we think we actually understand what we're doing. I suspect it's really more difficult to teach some parts of the physics curriculum without direct faculty-student contact.

    George Gollin
    professor of physics
    Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  3. chris

    chris New Member

    Some subjects are best taught in a classromm.

    I agree with g-gollin about the benefits of teaching some subjects in a lab/classrom. Being able to touch and feel the subject in addition to having your 2-dimensional text books will greatly aid in understanding. As a graduate from both online and more traditional programs, however, I feel I have learned more in some of my online classes then I would have in a classroom. Online, my learning pace is not limited by the slowest learner in the class. In fact, while studying online for my MBA, I had to exercise discipline in using my google tool bar as I would end up 10 sites downlink researching a particular issue instead of getting to the assignment at hand. This ability is unavailable in a classrom.
  4. lloyddobbler

    lloyddobbler New Member

    I'm just now starting the online phase of my education after doing the first 94 credits the traditional on campus way, so my distance learning experience is minimal.
    That being said though, I'd say that the interaction with fellow students can actually be better online than it is in a class room.

    Message/disscusion boards are a pretty great way for those of us who are a bit shy to get our points across. Up until Fall 2002 I never ever spoke up in class (traditional class) unless the instructor called on me. Last year, after having taken 4 years off of school, I came back as a much better and much more vocal student. The way I am in a class room now though is the way I've always been when discussing things on message boards, and I can't help thinking that had I had access to distance learning in the early 90's, when I was in community college, my class participation would have been at a much higher level than it was back then.

    The one thing that I feel is definately going to lag behind traditional class room education, as far as DL goes, is the interaction with the instructor. I had a pretty great history professor last fall, and her love of history really energized the class. Just the way she acted and the way she emphasized things up at the front of the room kept us all into whatever she was talking about. She actually had me amped up to read Thomas Jefferon's "Notes on the State of Virginia" which is probably the most boring text on the face of the earth.

    Of course not every professor is exciting though... in fact, most of the ones I've had have been down right boring, so I can't see myself missing the interaction too much while I finish my last 29 credits.
  5. Jallen2

    Jallen2 New Member

    I also agree that the opportunity to enhance learning in a course is greater for online courses.

    However, interaction between yourself and other students and the professor is decreased. How important is this? In some colleges the network created during your studies can help you latter in life, but at the undergrad level this is rare. I did find it easier to figure out what the professor believed was important (translation: on the exam) in the classroom, but I'm not sure that is a benefit beyond maintaining a high GPA.

    As for how "what is the role of a teacher in ones education and how do they enhance what one reads in a textbook outside of class"... I'm sure others may find more utility in professors, but at the undergrad level I found that the main benefit of a professor is helping the slower individuals in the class interpret the lectures and ensure that all their students at least pass the course.

    On occasion there are great/wonderful professors that can instill a love of the subject they are teaching in their students, but this appears to be rare even at elite institutions. In practice I did receive more benefit from my professors during my undergrad degree then I just claimed, but that was during after class discussions.
  6. Leslie

    Leslie New Member

    It seems that many online students feel that interaction with either classmates and/or instructor is lacking in the online learning environment. Sadly, this is happening all too frequently. This does not have to be the case and, indeed, should not be the case.

    Faculty who are trained in effective online instructional methodology will be enthusiastic and involved with students, collectively and individually. A talented online instructor can bring about more interaction among students than is possible in the limited weekly in-class time in traditional classes.

    I've gotten to know each of my online students far better than I ever was able to do in traditional classes. There just is not time for individual interaction with all students in traditional education environments. During a 16-week online semester course, I exchange individual emails with every student several times during the course. Another way that I interact individually with each student (and "teach") is through extensive feedback on written assignments.

    And of course, the most effective way to facilitate learning and to interact with all students is through the discussions forums. Too often though, online instructors do not know how to effectively facilitate learning through text-based discussion. This is a real disservice to online students because discussion is a major component of online learning. Otherwise, the online course is nothing more than a high-tech correspondence course.

  7. lloyddobbler

    lloyddobbler New Member

    Hopefully my mentors at TESC will be good and effective as I'm sure you are!

  8. Jallen2

    Jallen2 New Member

    The fall of education

    *warning long ramble and rant below*


    I applaud your effort to enhance the learning of your students. However, I do find one flaw in your logic about the average online professor. The flaw is that there isn’t a significant difference between the average online professor and the average classroom professor. I'll give the benefit of the doubt to major University with long traditions of educating and ignore the fact that the majority of these types of Universities have classes of 100+ students which make it impossible for the student to interact with the professor. Instead I will take the rest of the B&M school professors and make the statement that far to many have no idea how to teach or interact with their students either.

    My wife is currently attending a university in Hawaii (HPU to be exact) that was ranked in the second tier by U.S. News (not the best way to rate a college, but it will have to do). It is possible that the professors at the full time down town campus are wonderful, but the professors at the night and extension sections of the University are horrid. One of her current professors has no idea of the subject matter that he teaches, holds class for a full 1 1/2 hours out of the 4 hours scheduled, and refuses to give the answers to the homework problems or even work out the solutions to the 10% they cover in class before class! Unfortunately, I could tell similar stories about other professors she has had. I am convinced that the majority of students in non-traditional degree programs experience similar situations and please remember that the majority of college students are non-traditional.

    Just to give everyone who bothered to read this a little ammo to use against me. The above reasons are why I believe UoP does offer a quality education. At least they require the professors to hold the students for the required period and have a course laid out for them. Yes, it does destroy the possibility of a brilliant professor, but it does ensure some level of competence in the information covered. It's kind of sad that I defend an education experience on lack of incompetence instead of quality, but...
  9. Leslie

    Leslie New Member

    Re: The fall of education

    John -- you're preaching to the choir here :) The first order of business for higher ed institutions is to hire profs who know their subject matter. The second order of business is to make sure they know HOW to teach, whether it be f2f or online. In my undergrad and grad days I experienced all too few good profs and all too many horrid ones. I sat through classes with over 100 students in an auditorium (well actually I skipped most of those classes and showed up for tests and exams) and hated every minute. And don't even get me started on the god-awful online profs I had throughout my distance learning MSED program. I hear that has improved somewhat after many of us raised such a stink about it. Actually now that I think about it, my college years were pretty much wasted as everything I know now I learned through experience on the job. I think the entire concept of higher ed has some serious flaws.

    There are some exceptions of course. Some profs are outstanding. But usually out of every 10 profs, 2 are good, 2 more are just okay, and the rest belong anywhere except in the classroom (f2f and online). In very 20 profs, we get lucky and find one outstanding teacher.

    Another thing that I really really hate about higher ed is the lecture format. Lecture is the least effective of all the instructional methods and the only reason it's continued is that it's easy. I know plenty of profs who "lecture" by reading word for word out of the text. How boring is that!

    Until higher ed institutions begin really supervising and mentoring instructional faculty, nothing will change. The problem is that the deans and supervisors don't know how to teach either so those admin positions are nothing more than fluff.

    oh well, off my soapbox now :) Sometimes I think the "for profit" schools just may be on to something -- they have to keep the customer (student) satisfied so they have to provide quality instruction. Nothing wrong with that at all.

  10. Jeff Hampton

    Jeff Hampton New Member

    Re: Re: The fall of education

    I agree with most of what has been said here. The majority of higher education instructors are very poor teachers. But what do you expect? How many higher ed instructors have had even minimal education in pedagogy?

    I honestly don't think that there is a huge disparity in the average quality of education that one receives in distance learning (or more specifically, online) classes as opposed to that received in a classroom setting, in most subjects.

    Certainly there are subjects that seem to be more suited to a physical laboratory setting. Physics is a good example.

    But there are others that could probably be taught just as effectively online.

    Of course, there is quite a bit of research on this topic, so my opinion is of little consequence. If you are interested in the topic, check out the research.

    One thing I do know is that learners have different learning styles. Distance learning is not suited for everyone. But, then again, neither is traditional classroom education.
  11. g-gollin

    g-gollin New Member

    well, maybe not a majority...

    Hi Jeff,

    The majority of higher education instructors are very poor teachers. But what do you expect? How many higher ed instructors have had even minimal education in pedagogy?

    You may find this encouraging: take a look here:

    and click on the "curriculum development" item in the navigation frame on the left side. In that page's main frame is a link to stuff we're trying out (it's the "quantitative methods..." link). And, being physicists, we try to figure out how to measure whether changes make a detectable difference in how well our students learn the material. One really encouraging thing: the students' evaluation of our discussion section TA's have become remarkably positive since we rebuilt everything a half-dozen years ago. This is in comparison with how they fared previously (end-of-course surveys to collect the info), and how TA's in large courses do university-wide. So our students are happier, but it's still a difficult subject to teach effectively, and we're still banging away on trying new things.

    It's a matter of conscience (and also pride, I think) how well one teaches, and how much one tries to understand how to do it better. My experiences as faculty only cover two institutions (I was an assistant professor at Princeton before becoming faculty at the University of Illinois), and both schools take the quality of instruction very seriously, and bring about a large amount of one-on-one contact between faculty and students (a pair of required independent study papers, working directly with a faculty mentor, then a senior thesis at Princeton; small courses and a strongly recommended research course leading to a senior thesis, as well as a terrific summer undergraduate research program at Illinois).

    And we do understand that lecture is only a part (and sometimes a not-so-effective part) of the teaching process. It depends on the learning style of the individual student.

    If you're curious to see what I'm teaching, here's the web site for one of my courses:

    It's a physics major course for students in their second semester that's an honors component available in conjunction with the large engineer-physicist course. It goes nicely and the students learn a lot of cool stuff (they derive relativity for themselves, and it really blows them away).

    This particular course wouldn't work as a distance course since the students work problems (socratic method) in small groups on the blackboards (we had them installed on all four walls) while I prowl around giving advice, answering questions, pointing out the subtleties of things they're doing. It makes for an exhausting two hours (we're all on our feet at the boards, so nobody zones out), and it's really a gas to teach. I have a dozen students this semester; if the class were larger I'd have a grad student prowling with me, also advising the students as they wrestled with the material.

    George Gollin
  12. Han

    Han New Member

    HUGE GENERALITIES above. My goodness!!

    For every professor that you shows me that is pathetic and not engaged, I can show you one who is…. And visa versa. I have had a professor that I escalated to the Dean due to the inability to give any teaching ability in the DL forum, no interaction, no feedback, etc. I was told that she was the same in the B&M classroom.

    The same can be said the other way around. I had one professor sit online as we swapped an excel file that he did not want to give me the answer, but as I waited analyzed the problem with my formulas, then e-mailed it back with suggestions…. Hours later I got it and learned more in that class then most.

    Overall, if you put very little in, very little learning will come out….. true in DL, true in B&M….
  13. Jeff Hampton

    Jeff Hampton New Member

    Re: well, maybe not a majority...

    Wow! I congratulate your institution. I checked it out and it is certainly quite impressive.

    But this is a top-tier research institution. The majority of undergrad lower-division credits are earned at ]community colleges. Do they have similar initiatives? I think our educational system can only be judged by the lowest acceptable standards.

    And I know that every politician would say that it is a matter of conscience (and also pride) to do their best to serve their constituents. Yet is that what really happens?

    Moreover, even if it is a matter of conscience and pride, how does that qualify someone to be a teacher? Do you totally discount the field of pedagogy? Is it unreasonable to think that someone whose career involves teaching should have at least a bit of a background in education?

    I think that the problem is that most "academics" do not view themselves as teachers. Teaching is an unfortunate side-effect of being a "researcher."

    And we do understand that lecture is only a part (and sometimes a not-so-effective part) of the teaching process. It depends on the learning style of the individual student.

    Hey, Feynman never studied "education," so why should I?

    Perhaps because we are not Feynman?
  14. mcjon77

    mcjon77 Member

    I think when comparing the relative quality of a classroom based class to that of a computer based class a few things need to be taken into consideration.

    I've just returned from taken on campus classes from the school where I will be recieving my masters. I had previously taken distance classes from them, so I know both perspectives with regard to the university. Overall, I still have to give the edge to classroom based learning, for me personally. This is solely because I am the type of person who asks a lot of questions in class. The imediate feedback I get from asking a question in the middle of a lecture is invaluable. However, approximately 80-85% of my class did not ask any questions, so for them, not being able to ask questions imediately would probably be a negligable loss. It all depends on people's prefered way of interacting with professors. While I asked several questions a day in my classes , I believe I posted only one messege on the messege board. Conversely, there were several people in class who posted quite frequently on the messege boards but never asked a question in class.

    Classes that use chat rooms for section meetings would be very helpful. And I have gotten into the habit of stopping the video stream whenever a question pops up and writing my question down. At the end of the lecture, I erase the questions that I got answers to in later parts of the lecture and email my prof the rest. My teachers have been really great about giving me timely responses (usually 15 minutes to 18 hours later) to my emails.

    The best IMHO is the the person who can physically attend a class that is also taught via distance. They can ask questions in class, AND watch the video of the lectures whenever they need a review.

    If you don't ask questions in class, you may prefer the distance method. If you usually ask a lot of questions in class, you may find that you have to work harder to get the same quality of education as the in-class students. It can definately be done, with a supportive faculty, it just takes a bit more effort.

    Just My Thoughts.

  15. AJJ

    AJJ New Member

    A matter of degree

    In reality, it makes sense that classroom, face to face sessions and computer generated activities can go hand in hand. One does have benfits over the other. For example, students who, for whatever reasons, find it difficult to contribute in class actually feel 'free as a bird' quite often to express themselves sitting behind a computer! The problem is (and there is increasing research evidence for this) people are, generally, less well-mannered when engaging in computer-based interaction with
    others. Other evidence shows that people learn actual facts, figures, etc (the basics) about a topic in one twentieth of the time when this information is delivered via computer! So, the role of the faculty person needs to change. His/her job is not to essentially inform, other than to ensure students have the basics.

    This is very much about 'styles' of delivery, learning patterns that are suited to each individual. Someone who is loner may be attracted to just taking on-line courses when, in reality, they may be encouraged to 'come out of their shell' if they could be persuaded to attend class.

    The other problem with web based learning is the lack of true academic interaction. Many programmes have simply become, however rigorous, spoon feeding operations. I'd include the Herriot Watt MBA and Leicester Centre for Labour Market Studies programmes in this category - as good as they are!

  16. g-gollin

    g-gollin New Member

    > Wow! I congratulate your institution.
    > I checked it out and it is certainly quite impressive.


    > But this is a top-tier research institution.
    > The majority of undergrad lower-division credits
    > are earned at community colleges. Do they have similar
    > initiatives?

    I don't know-- I find that some of the way I teach is based on the strong (positive) impression that some of my professors made on me. I remember how important it was to me, and I'm sort of passing this on to the next gemeration. I don't have any contact with the community college system at the moment. But I believe it plays a very important role in US society, just like our state universities do. I hope that some of the teaching there is inspired, because it's so important, but I don't know what it's really like.

    > And I know that every politician would say that it
    > is a matter of conscience (and also pride) to do
    > their best to serve their constituents.
    > Yet is that what really happens?

    Many of us are not politicians. There are notions of truth in some domains, and notions of greater clarity of thought and insight in others to which one must come with a pure heart and an open mind. My colleagues are generally like that, and almost all take teaching seriously. Something to keep in mind: many of us really like the fields we work in (and teach in), and there's a kind of show-and-tell pleasure in presenting things that really light us up to our students. Perhaps there are lots of broken down disasters whose lives are wrecked and who teach wretchedly. They're outside my experience, so I don't have a feel for how many of them are out there, or where they teach. It'd be dreadful to have one as a professor, for sure.

    > Even if it is a matter of conscience and pride,
    > how does that qualify someone to be a teacher?

    It doesn't, initially, and some people learn how to improve faster than others. The hardest thing for new (physics) teachers is to understand what a student is actually trying to ask when they are unable to formulate a clear question because the material is confusing. Being well organized in how you present something is easier than learning to interpret questions in physics classes, I find.

    > Do you totally discount the field of pedagogy?

    Now, now, what made you think that I ever implied something as silly as that?

    > Is it unreasonable to think that someone whose career
    > involves teaching should have at least a bit of a
    > background in education?

    It's very reasonable, of course. We do try to figure out how to do it better. And it's been intersting to see how much better our metrology is concerning teaching methods than some of our colleagues who don't come to the pedagogical studies with strong math skills.

    > I think that the problem is that most "academics"
    > do not view themselves as teachers. Teaching is an
    > unfortunate side-effect of being a "researcher."

    Well, that's not my experience, either as a student or as a professor. I do seem to talk about teaching with other faculty from all sorts of places-- it comes up in conversation in particle physics research conferences all the time, especially when someone thinks they figured ot a better way to do something, for example. If you have a few minutes, take a look at an op-ed piece on the interplay betweem teaching and research written by Tom Devlin, a high energy physicist and professor at Rutgers University. Here's the URL:

    It does a nice job expressing how people feel about teaching, and it has statistical info too-- it might be an encouraging thing to read.

    > Hey, Feynman never studied "education," so why should I?

    That reads like you're aiming an insult at me, but I think you're just making a general observation that's not really directed at me. Yes?

    > Perhaps because we are not Feynman?

    Ah, now that IS a cheap shot. If I were Feynman, I'd be dead, so I can live with being a good experimentalist rather than an extraordinary (and very much deceased) theorist.

    In the face of bad teaching it somtimes works to document it as well as possible and then take the complaint to a department chair. Sometimes it is correctable, and sometimes people don't get tenure because they're lousy teachers. The flip side-- people getting tenure because they're good teachers even though their research isn't very good-- doesn't happen at universities with a dual focus on teaching and research (like Illinois) but I suppose it does at all sorts of schools where research isn't expected to play a large role in faculty activities. But please take a look at Devlin's article if you have a moment.

  17. viper88

    viper88 New Member

    Maybe one way to clarify this discussion is to concisely outline what makes a teacher a GOOD or EFFECTIVE teacher and then see if these standards can apply to both online and traditional education. What do you all think?
  18. Leslie

    Leslie New Member

    effective teaching

    Well, um.... okay, I'm game. Here's a list to start -- and all these apply to both f2f and online instruction. Feel free to add to the list -- actually a list of this sort is limited only by one's imagination and creativity :)

    Effective instruction:

    1. actively engages students
    2. sets high expectations
    3. provides varied learning activities
    4. provides opportunities for students to apply challenging course concepts to real world situations
    5. includes a balance of teacher-directed and students-centered approaches
    6. provides flexibility within structure
    7. incorporates personalized learning based on students’ prior experience and current educational needs within the parameters of the course material
    8. diagnostic instruction (assessment followed by alternate instruction if needed)
    9. provides opportunities for formative self-evaluation

    Specific strategies include:
    1. providing clear learning objectives
    2. effective assessments
    3. use of 7-tier questioning
    4. clear detailed instructions and explanations
    5. collaborative learning activities
    6. problem solving learning activities
    7. inquiry based learning activities
    8. application of academic and technical skills
    9. independent research
    10. guided and independent practice

  19. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

    A bit of Reinerist analysis: if you fart in a classroom and then glare at someone nearby, you can create consternation. If you're at your PC and you fart, no one cares.
  20. Ron Dotson

    Ron Dotson New Member

    I do get a few dirty looks from the wife and kids.:p


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