Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Distance training laments & praises

By Daniel T. Parker

Distance-learning courses are great, absolutely great, for those students who do not need too much help from the teacher, who are responsible and honest, and who simply "need" the freedom from the classroom schedules inorder to take care of their lives, whether it be work or other responsibilities/hurdles.

However, the catch is that those students who truly need a classroom situation (remember, the teacher is not the only educational tool in a classroom -- gathering experience from other students is a largely overlooked affective factor, in my mind at least) will probably suffer. Those students who come up with excuses about why they couldn't come to class or complete assignments will have a whole new selection of alibis to choose from ("I couldn't get on-line" or "something's wrong with my disk" or, my personal favorite, "I sent it -- why didn't you get it?").

Last but not least, distance-learning courses really increase the chance for"cheating" simply because it makes it more possible. Even with recordings, will you be sure that the voice you hear is the voice of the student?

Now that I've unloaded all the negatives, let me soften my stance a little by pointing out that the courses I designed/taught were for American freshmen, not for Asian business people. Hopefully, the maturity factor will erase some of the problems of which I spoke -- that is, as long as the students you're teaching actually see the need to gain the "knowledge" and not just the grade/certification.

Personally, I did not like the distance-learning class I took, and didn't prefer the ones I taught. That's a personal thing; I love/crave theclassroom atmosphere even though I realize how tiring and exasperating it can be (somehow, however, I seem to take energy from a class -- I can go into a classroom feeling sickly or tired, and come out feeling recharged).

Let me say one more thing, if the only motivation you have for this move is to take care of the attendance problem, I would suggest either

(A) implementing and enforcing a strict attendancepolicy -- miss *x* number of classes and you fail, period -- or

(B) don'tworry about attendance at all, by adopting the mindset that if your studentsare missing class, it's because they have to, and if they can't make up what they missed, that's merely the result of the choice they made and not yourresponsibility.

I had a small handful of businesspeople in my ENG101/102 distance learning classes. Most were very reliable, two were just as bad as any 17-year-old slacker in a regular class -- one missed every single assignment and due date, plagiarized every assignment she did turn in, and then complained about her failing grade to my departmental chairman by saying that by god she paid for an A and by god she was going to get one. She did not.

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