It’s time to think about replacing some on-ground classes with online ones

September 11, 2009 — by Arnav Dugar

Can you imagine life without cell-phones or the Internet? With the turn of the 21st century, new means of communication have revolutionized the way we interact with each other, from employees web-conferencing across the globe to the complex social networks developed over applications like Facebook.

Just like these tools have completely transformed our ability to communicate, online classes have the potential to harness the same technology and transform education.

The concept of formal education first developed around 300 B.C.E. when the Egyptians and Sumerians started creating centers to teach reading and writing to large audiences. Since then, not much has changed in terms of how education is delivered. You get up in the morning, get ready and then go to your classes where a wise person can teach you. But that seems so passé!

Today our generation is privileged to not only have access to the best information available at the touch of a button but also be able to discuss it with anyone, anywhere, instantaneously. Although the value of the traditional education system in a classroom environment is irreplaceable in a few ways, online classes bring a totally new and invaluable dimension to education.

Imagine sophomore Joe Schmoe who has a burning passion for writing short stories. With sports and the homework from his classes looming in the back of his mind, it is impossible for him to have the time to write.
Then in English, he feels stuck reviewing comprehension, grammar and vocabulary he has already mastered. Schmoe is looking for guidance by an author on how to write instead of the standard English 10.
With an online writing course, Schmoe would be able to replace his English 10 class with a writing-specific one, dedicate a part of his day to his passion and incorporate that into his homework.

Community college classes offer an inadequate solution to specific courses. These classes are much harder than normal high school classes and are in an adult environment with irregular schedules. Anyway, Schmoe is not even eligible since these classes are offered to only upperclassmen and they are not replacements for core classes.

Online classes may be the only way to take accelerated classes not offered by a school. Maybe writing is not your thing, but for any specific field, the generic school class may not be as fulfilling as an online alternative. For specific subjects, experienced teachers may be hard to find locally.

On the other hand, Schmoe is struggling to wrap his mind around his Algebra II homework. He enjoyed geometry because he could visualize what he was doing but needs an algebra class where he can learn graphically.
Tools, such as discussion forums and chat rooms, provide a unique environment fostering multitudes of diverse ideas and thinking styles from people around the country.

If Schmoe has a question at 11 p.m., he does not have to wait until the next day to ask the teacher, but can post it online to have it answered in multiple ways by other students. Also he could see if someone else asked the same question or check the class’s transcript in case he missed what the teacher said.

Online classes also allow a flexible learning atmosphere. As Schmoe is not a morning person, he would prefer to sleep in late and work in the evening when his writing juices are strongest. The permutations of possibilities with online classes are endless.

The technology to host effective online classes exists, as well as the online classes themselves, and it has already proven itself in respect to online communication.

The state of Virginia has already begun an online program integrated with their high schools. A few counties in California, such as Fresno, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Orange, Riverside and San Diego, just started offering online classes this school year.

As developments in technology progress, education needs to keep up in order to take advantage of the new features available, from the convenience of time and location to the diversity of people involved and ideas suggested. Schools just have to take the initiative to move from a 2,300-year-old approach to a more modern one.

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