Learning not a priority for online courses

Graphic by Lena Yang
Graphic by Lena Yang

New types of digital devices coupled with widespread and instantaneous connectivity via the internet has led to a new conceptualization of how people engage with the world around them.

In our part of the world, digital media has entered virtually every realm of our lives, creating new norms, values and practices while re-shaping old ones.

One area of our lives particularly impacted by technology is education.

Online courses are becoming more popular, with students choosing to learn from behind a screen rather than in a classroom.

At first glance, the idea of being able to “do school” from the comforts of home sounds grand. There are no classes to wake up for, no three-hour lectures to attend and, with the exception of some minor interaction via e-mail, there isn’t even a professor to engage with; it’s just you, your computer and your pajamas.

However, as a fourth year student who has recently taken online classes for the first time, I’ve come to see this new trend in education very differently.

The first step towards breaking down the false aura of awesomeness surrounding online courses is the realization of their value. It costs the same amount of money to be almost entirely responsible for teaching yourself than it costs to be taught by a professor.

Professors largely act as course overseers, while students are responsible for learning solo from regurgitated lesson notes. Tuition cost is only the beginning.

Many of these courses are textbook oriented, meaning that it is an absolute necessity to purchase the book and any accompanying discs or online access codes. Naturally, these “dynamic” texts come with a hefty price tag that hovers around the $170 range.

In an attempt to incorporate outside media material into lessons, professors ask that students rent DVDs from the Online Learning Center.

So, unlike the classroom scenario where students watch videos as a part of the learning experience they’ve already paid for, online courses require students to pay additional fees for this material. I paid a $175 deposit for four DVDs. What did I borrow, an advanced copy of Transformers 4?

Even worse than the expense of online courses, is their method of teaching.

Much of a student’s grade often comes from timed multiple-choice tests that rely more on memory than actual knowledge. This standardized method of teaching ignores the fact that learning is a subjective experience and places students who do not excel in this environment at a serious disadvantage.

I’m troubled to say that university appears to have become, first and foremost, a business. This bleak reality seems most obvious in the case of online learning where students are required to pay, in addition to already outlandish tuition fees, to sit at home and teach themselves a university course.

If education truly has been reduced to a bureaucratic, procedural relationship between business and consumer, then please, just hand me the credit.

It seems utterly ridiculous that I should pay more than what I typically would for a course that forces me to demonstrate my understanding through a few multiple choice exams.

I would like to end with a question for Laurier’s administration: Does it seem more reasonable to offer a self-taught course where a student’s opportunity for success comes from a timed multiple-choice exam based on information gleamed in a textbook, or a course where the professor takes an active role in engaging with students and provides an opportunity to demonstrate learning subjectively?

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