martes, 10 de noviembre de 2015

Online education: is it for everyone?

By Zarela Cruz

Online education has been promoted as “the latest tendency in education”. Therefore, many institutions are tailoring their curricula so that they can incorporate an online component. The question is, is it for everyone?

Going back to the basics
To have the complete picture, let’s go back to the basics. When online education started, it was  mainly used to offer short courses, and afterwards, both certificates and diplomas. As far as I remember, the final exam had to be face-to-face. Needless to say, students were mainly from Lima and only some of them, from provinces. Materials and assignments were normally loaded beforehand and the courses were well-structured, but something was missing: Instructors made the difference: specially when it came to  clarify doubts and reply students within a reasonable waiting time. Eventually, upper education institutions understood that to expand the target market, final exams should be online too, and so the story began.

Is that the solution we have been looking for?
This kind of courses has been promoted as the solution in our busy llves: we can study at our own pace and most importantly, from wherever we are. True, but not entirely. In Lima, access to internet is much faster than in provinces, which is a restriction in itself. Working in groups is not that easy, even when collaborative work does its share, On the other hand, few courses can be completed at your own pace within a time limit whilst most of them have a layout and each week you are expected to participate in forums and do an assignment. Work at your own pace then?  Yes, but within some limits.

Too good to be true?
Do not get me wrong. I do believe that online education can reach many more people and does not need to be syncronic. In that sense, there have been attempts to provide free education. Internationally, Coursera has a wide range of courses, and the main advantage is that your paying a fee for taking a course is not compulsory, although it is necessary to get an international certification.  The price is quite affordable. Too good to be true?  In Lima, I know of another   attempt: Aula Abierta which was an initiative to donate knowledge, but did not last very much. Classes were quite interesting. However,  they were not part of a programme, just isolated lessons from different courses.

Even high-reputed universities like Cambridge University started to offer online courses a few years ago and  they have expanded their course range based on the positive response. Even Harvard Universty has launched an online MBA and a virtual classroom. This is not the only attempt. Yale University’s Business School and other schools have tried out a live web-based classroom and the University of San Diego went much further: they put students in a virtual world, like a video game, where they can take seminars and interact! (see link below)

What now?
I am a firm believer that there is a lot more to develop in this field and that their findings will help to (re)design the online education in the coming years. But, is it for everyone? Is it applicable in the teaching of languages, for example? Do students at universities agree with having the online component in most of their courses? What is behind this decision? Just being updated with technology or increasing their profit? Is there an evaluation in terms of results regarding quality of education in blended courses at universities? What do you, dear reader, expect from online education as student yourself?

Leave a comment and share your experience with us!

What we are learning from online education

Harvard launches virtual-classroom students


Zarela Cruz graduated from Ricardo Palma University as a translator.  She also finished her master’s degree studies in Linguistics and took some specialization diplomas. During her 20 years’ teaching experience, she has been a teacher trainer in Huaraz and Ayacucho and lectured in some Congresses for EFL teachers in Lima. In 2009 she designed materials for a virtual reading course becoming a tutor shortly afterwards. Since then, she has been taking online courses and certificates in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education and Working Adult Education and a number of online courses such as: Academic Research, From Teacher to Manager, Teacher of the 21st century among others. She is currently an online tutor.