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Wes Pearce

By Caitlin Brezinski

The shift towards online trends in education has led to a debate as to whether or not online courses are beneficial for professors and students. Greg Bawden, an instructional designer who develops online courses, says that online courses have a positive effect on students who may not otherwise participate in class.  

 

“In a large class, instructors may not engage with the students or they may not want to speak because they’re shy. In online courses, we find that students will often participate more because, in a way, they are anonymous,” Bawden said.

 

Ashley Stephens, an English major at the university, said that she takes online courses because it's convenient for working around her busy schedule. But she does believe there are some potential limitations.

 

“Taking students from on-site and in-person will take money away from the buildings and their staff, as well as get rid of the interaction and Socratic dialogue that happens in most classrooms,” she said.

 

Anna Mudde, assistant professor of philosophy, said that she is a traditionalist in her approach to education because of her belief that face-to-face learning is more beneficial.

 

“I think that the classroom is an important human space.  Being in the room with other people, especially when you’re wrestling with ideas, is helpful,” Mudde said.

 

Cayley Brooks, an English major, feels online classes have the potential to limit her learning.

 

“I feel like I would rather physically be in the classroom learning than kind of doing it on my own. It’s easier to get help and ask questions that way,” she said.

           

Since options for online courses began in 1999, Bawden says that there has been a continual growth in interest and enrollment, reaching over 6,000 students.   

 

“The biggest benefit would be the flexibility. Students can take a course anywhere, anytime,” he said.

 

Although the interest in technology and education is growing, Mudde foresees difficulties.

 

“What we do in teaching is communication. It’s really hard to communicate effectively when you’re not in the room with somebody,” she said.

 

Wes Pearce, associate dean at the faculty of fine arts, believes that online classes have an important place in education.

 

“I think it allows the learning process to be more self-directed,” he said. “It sort of forces participation without someone standing in front of the classroom, calling you out, so I think many people appreciate that.” 

 

Having experience in both traditional and online approaches to learning, Pearce noted that online discussions have generally been more thoughtful and more articulate than in class.

 

However, Pearce also points out that online class may not be for everyone. “Online learning can be very effective for some students, but I don’t think everyone learns the same way.  If you’re a student who feeds on the energy of the classroom, it’s not necessarily going to be all that successful,” he said.

 

Despite discussion and debate into technology’s place in education, Bawden says that this shift in digital learning is unlikely to stop.

 

“I don’t think it’s going to go away. As we get more connected, as technology becomes cheaper and more readily available, there’s going to be more and more people using it,” he said.