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28 July, 2020 08:13:41 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 31 July, 2020 10:56:34 AM


Online education and the challenges

Professor Dr. Kamaluddin Ahmed
Online education and the challenges

Online education is very much vogue, but learning online can under mine traditional skills such as the ability to concentrate on one issue rather than  multitask. It can lead to more alienated, less connected individuals and it can undermine teaching  too.

While online learning has benefits, we should not overlook the advantages of small interactive classes. On potentially positive result of the current fascination with online education is that universities may be forced to define and defend quality education.

This analysis of what we value should help us present to the public the importance of higher education in a high-tech world.However, the worst thing to do is to equate university education  with its worst forms of  instruction, which will in turn open the door for distance learning. Perhaps the most destructive aspect of higher education is the use of large lecture classes. Not only does this type of learning environment lead to focus on students memorising information for multiple choice tests, but it also undermines any real distinction between  in-person and online education

As one educational committee at the University of California  in Los Angeles argued we should just move most of our introductory courses online because they are already highly impersonal and ineffective. In opposition to this argument, we need to define and defend high-quality in-person classes.Although some would argue that we should prepare students for the new high-tech world of self-instruction we will need to teach students how to focus, concentrate and sustain attention. In large classes, where the teacher often does not even know if  the students are in attendance, it is hard to get students to stay on task, and many times  these potential learners are simply surfing the web or text messaging.

In a small class, it is much harder for students to be invisible and to multitask. While some may say that it is not the role of university educators to socialise these young adults. It is clear that the current generation of students does need some type of guidance in how they use technology and participate in their own education.

When people multitask, it often takes them twice as long to complete a task and they do it half as well. When the students try to write a paper they are constantly text messaging and surfing the web: the result is that they spend hours writing their essays, and their writing is often disjointed and lacking in coherence. Since they are not focused on a single task, they do not notice that the ideas and sentences in their essays do not flow or cohere. Literally and figuratively, these multitasking students are only partially present when they are writing and thinking. This lack of presence also shows up in the classroom. Students often act as if they are invisible in small classes because in their large lecture classes they are in many ways not present. Many students seem to lack any awareness of how they appear to others, and they are so used to sleeping in their large classes that they do not think about how their present absence appears to other students in a smaller class.

Of course, it is much more difficult  for students to be either literally and figuratively absent in a small class, but some students have been socialised by their large lecture classes to ignore the different expectations of more intimate learning environments.. As many higher education teachers have experienced, some students are able to participate in online discussion forums, but have a hard time speaking in their small seminars. Once again , students may find it difficult being present in front of others and taking the risk of presenting their own ideas in the presence of others. Some distance educators argue that we can resolve this problem just moving classes online. But do we really want to train a generation of students who do not know how to communicate to other people in a natural setting?

Students lose the ability to make eye contact and read body language and that they are not being prepared to be effective citizens, workers, and family members. This disconnect from in-person communication also relates to a distance from the natural world, and a growing indifference to destruction of our environment. In this alienation from nature and natural environments, people also lose the ability to distinguish between true and false representations. On the web where everything is a virtual image or simulation generated by digital code we live in a state of constant indifference. The web also creates the illusion that all information is available and accessible to anyone at any time. This common view represses the real disparities of access in our world and also undermines the need for educational experts.

After all if you can get all knowledge from Wikipedia or a google search, why do you need teachers or even colleges? In response to this attitude, we should re-center higher education away from the learning of isolated facts and theories, and concentrate on teaching students how to do things with information. In other words, students need to be taught by expert educator about how to access, analyse, criticise, synthesise and communicate knowledge from multiple perspectives and disciplines. While online educators argue that the traditional methods of instruction are out of date because they do not take  into account the ways the new digital youth learn and think. There is still a great need to teach students how to focus, concentrate and discover how to make sense of the information that surrounds them.

Too many online enthusiasts sell the new generation of students short of arguing  that they can learn if they are being entertained or if learning is an exciting self-paced activity. Yet still we need to teach people to concentrate and sustain their attention when things may get a little boring or difficult. Not all education should be fast-paced and visually stimulating; rather, people have to learn how to focus and stick with difficult and challenging tasks..In this age of distracted living, where people crash their cars while text messaging and parents ignore their children while multitasking do we really want a generation of students to take classes on their laptops as they text, play games, and check their Facebook status updates?

Isn't there something to value about showing up to a class at the right time and the right place with the proper preparation and motivation? The idea of  'anytime- any place' education defeats the purpose of having a community of scholars engaged in a shared learning experience? Furthermore, the stress on self-pace learning undermines the value of social nature of education: the end result is that not only are students  studying or bowling alone, but they are being seduced by a libertarian ideology that tells them that only the individual, and there is no such thing as a public space anymore.

When students have to be in a class and listen to their teacher and fellow learners, they are forced to turn off their cell phones to focus on a shared experience without the constant need to check their Facebook pages or latest texts. In fact, students tell that they would hate to take their class online because they already feel addicted to their technologies. From their perspective moving required classes online is like giving free crack to addicts and telling them that  that it will be good  for them. In order to help students understand their dependence on technology and their alienation from nature  and their own selves they can be  brought outside to say that they can not do anything.

This existence often makes students very anxious, and when the students are asked about experience, they write that they are not used to just doing nothing , and they feel an intensive need to reach for their phones: this dependence on communication technologies will only be enhanced by moving to distance education. Online education  then not only adds to our culture of distracted multitasking but it also often functions to undermine the value of university professors. The online universities have also separated teaching from  research and have basically 'unbundled' the traditional role of the faculty member. Like the undermining of newspapers by new media, we now have more sources of information,but fewer people being paid to do the actual ground work of researching and reporting.

So being present at the university means that students and teachers are present in their classes and that education is the central presence of the institution. There is really no replacement for face-to-face interaction between academics and students. Digital and online methods can enrich those interactions, but it seems unlikely they can replace them in anything. Access to online may suffice for some,but for the foreseeable future, the physical and synchronous experience of the campus will be an irreplaceable one -  an experience supplemented but not replaced by online

Writer is a treasurer, Jagannath University                                                                                  




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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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