What are the advantages that online teaching and learning have over traditional face-to-face educational experiences?
Think of five answers. How many of these have to do with time?
Most of the specific advantages I can think of (out of the blue or taken from this week’s readings) can be reduced to one common denominator: The online environment alters the temporal aspect learning in a way that’s beneficial to the learner. In my opinion, the traditional classroom environment can make learning an isolated act—you spend two hours one or two days per week learning something in class and then you mostly forget about it for the next six days. By removing the physical constraints of classroom learning, the online environment allows learning to take place continuously.
In Joseph Ugoretz’s article “Two Roads Diverged in a Wood”: Productive Digression in Asynchronous Discussion he analyzes the value of digression in learning and discusses how online learning can allow for students to gain the benefits of digression via asynchronous discussion. In this case, the online environment not only provides the necessary time for the discussion to take place (something a limited class period can’t afford) but the prolonged nature of asynchronous discussion gives students time to digest what’s been presented, reflect on it, perhaps check some sources, and then offer a thoughtful contribution.
In Bill Pelz’s article (My) Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy he offers insight into effective online pedagogy from his own teaching experiences. The three principles that he offers are essentially (1) stay out of the spotlight and let students do the work of learning, (2) encourage interaction among learners, and (3) maintain a presence in the online learning environment. I think the first two are sound principles in any environment, but in practice may be difficult to implement in limited face-to-face interactions. An online environment, however, increases opportunities to put these principles into practice by allowing the possibility of extended student-student and student-instructor interactions. While this article is more advice for educators (rather than an analysis of online learning), the principles it promotes are taking advantage of the continuous learning experience made possible in an online environment (rather than taking advantage of some other unique dimension of online learning).
For me, time is a central theme in both of these articles. I know that the advantages of online learning are not all about time (I appreciate the point brought up by Joe in the cac.o.phony discussion on the CUNY IT Conference that “…the fa [fully-asynchronous] environment gives students a chance to construct an identity based on their knowledge and thinking–and their communication of ideas–without any barriers or prejudices which might arise (and often do) in the face-to-face classroom.”), so what is it that makes online teaching and learning special? Should online teaching and learning be promoted as just a convenient alternative to traditional face-to-face environments? Or, is there a more fundamental difference with online learning that should be recognized and form the basis for developing effective online learning and teaching practices? With online teaching and learning, are we just gaining time? Or, are we gaining something else that just doesn’t exist in the traditional classroom?