While you’re still in your New Year’s celebratory mood, consider celebrating one more thing this year—the online classroom. While the format may have originally helped students who were not able to attend brick-and-mortar classes, the online classroom is now an educational necessity for many, given today's workforce.As a student advisor with the University System of Maryland, I sometimes hear critics say that online courses are a less than perfect method of instruction when compared to face-to-face instruction, so I'll offer my own experiences as insight into the highly debated issue.
I must confess that I was once guilty of being a virtual classroom skeptic. I tirelessly complained about the format, but within the first few weeks of starting classes, my opinion changed for several important reasons:
Professors are available on a daily basis
I no longer had to wait 2-3 days before speaking with a professor or schedule an appointment during office hours. In the online format, students and professors actively participate in discussions, assignments and often post questions so professors are available almost daily. This served as a huge advantage over face-to-face classes for me, because some professors were even open to giving feedback on papers or discussion comments before students submit them. I was even able to get answers to my questions about assigned readings in real time.
Abundant resources at student fingertips
Professors encourage the use of university resources, which include access to news, scholarly journals, periodicals, and trade publications, all across dozens of databases. I found these and other online resources helpful in expanding my understanding of course topics because online courses require thoughtful posts with researched evidence to support opinions, even for classroom discussions.
Broad Networking Opportunities
Thanks to online courses and distance education, students can expand their network of connections far beyond a single campus, to include students across the nation, and even from around the world. The online classroom is enriched by the different cultures and experiences of fellow classmates, all without the cost of studying abroad.
Preparation for the E-workforce
As companies increasingly shift to web operations, now more than ever, they seek employees with the ability to work, collaborate, meet, and share information online in addition to possessing strong quantitative, analytical, and communication skills. UMUC's online courses use WebTycho, a technology which prepares students for these workforce demands, through its class area where students access course documents, assignments, and discussions, as well as a study group area, where they can meet online and edit common documents.
In my experience, I've found the online classroom environment to be an opportunity to grow both academically and professionally, but I'd like to hear your experiences as well. Share them as a comment or post them on UMUC's Facebook page.