Now that I am half way done with my MLS program at SCSU, I am starting to think about and assess my online-education experiences, I have taken 6 online classes over the past 16 months. To be honest, I have conflicting emotions about the efficacy of online education. Overall, it is incredibly convenient. I have said before that I have no wish to enter into a traditional graduate program. Online classes afford one an extreme amount of freedom in terms of doing work, participating in class, taking finals, etc. Since I work full time and have personal commitments, this is essential – and will make it worth it to put up the problems that exist in the realm of distance education.
In reading general discussions and articles about online education, one of the primary concerns that people express is that students may be able to get away with doing less work. There seem to be concerns about how to assess student work and participation accurately. These concerns make sense. It stands to reason that professors must find new methods of evaluating student performance. After all, class attendance and participation are not nearly as clear cut as in a traditional classroom setting. However, what really bothers me is that I haven’t read anything about concerns about faculty performance in the online setting. The professor can make or break a class. And an online class has no chance to succeed if a faculty member conducts a class as if it were no different from a traditional one and without significant preparation time. Sadly, I feel as if several of my MLS classes have suffered from this problem.
Another big problem with choosing a distance program is the lack of community. Sure there are online discussions for some classes. However, there is no real sense of bonding with fellow students – or no real ability to develop a deep student/advisor relationship. There is no meeting with other students to work on projects, no chance meetings where spontaneous discussions about classroom lectures occur, no face-to-face sessions with one’s advisor, etc. There are very few opportunities to bounce ideas off of people and learn from fellow students. Ironically, I have found that this blog has helped to fill the gap and helped to make me feel a part of a community – maybe not a school community, but a library community. With this sentiment in mind, combined with all of the library 2.0 and social software discussions, I’m convinced that distance students need vibrant and comprehensive online communities that allow for widespread participation.
The bottom line is that based upon my limited experience with distance education, it is still a work in progress – and one that needs a great deal of work. I admit that in my current program, I feel very disconnected from the school, the ILS department and my fellow students – and I’ve discovered that this is really the biggest problem. I am not sure what to do with this, how to approach it or even how to make my voice heard. Who do you talk to? How do you find out the information that you need to know? How do you develop relationships? My recent experiences with one professor in particular have really highlighted how bad the online experience can really be. and how much work really needs to be done. The problem is that when one is so disconnected from the school and its policies and procedures, it is almost impossible to believe that one can effect positive change. Since I’m half way through the program (and will be 3/4 done at the end of this semester), I don’t necessarily have lots of time to try and figure this out.
A caveat:In my opinion, there are some serious problems with the online MLS program at SCSU. I do believe the problems are somewhat inherent to distance education in general. I’m still happy that I choose to attend SCSU – and have had some wonderful experiences that make the awful ones easier to cope with.