Online education enables better ways of learning, teaching

Originally published in Ludington Daily News – November 13, 2019

Going on 40 years as a college professor, half of which involved instruction in an online environment, I’ve seen revolutionary approaches to learning. I’ve seen educators like myself benefit from leveraging digital tools to better get to know and therefore teach their students. And speaking of students, I’ve seen them benefit from having a more personalized education experience that isn’t limited by the resources in their immediate backyard.

For so many reasons, I couldn’t be a greater advocate for online education. Here are just a few:

TECHNOLOGY PROMOTES FOCUS

When brick-and-mortar instruction was the only option, I noticed there were a number of distractions that inherently came with it. Fire alarms, noisy conversations in the hallway, texts or calls in the middle of a lecture — all these played a role in disrupting student learning and inhibiting student-instructor connection. A virtual classroom, by comparison, cuts back on those. It gives students the ability to pick a setting that’s both comfortable and convenient to them, in turn eliminating distractions and allowing them to be fully present with course material.

TECHNOLOGY PROMOTES AUTHENTICITY

I feel closer to my students today than I have in any of the years prior — the opposite of what most people think about online teacher-student interaction. For example, when I hold video “office hours” with students, or even when they simply reach out via text, email or instant message, I get a glimpse into their world — literally. Some students are in the backseat of a car or on their way to a sports competition halfway across the state. Some are just returning from a shift at work and are sitting at their kitchen table, with photos and pictures on the wall behind them. Still others are in their bedroom or home office, surrounded by books, papers and various items of interest.

These settings invariably ignite conversations that wouldn’t happen in the neutral space of the classroom, where the unique history and context each student brings with them is often silenced. Thanks to technology, I’m given a clearer picture of the people my students are behind the scenes, and as a result can tailor our conversations to meet their unique needs. The same goes for them — one student recently texted me a question while I was out fishing on Lake Michigan. I was able to send them a quick reply, then go on to catch a big one.

TECHNOLOGY PROMOTES ACCESSIBILITY

Beyond making sure students can still learn when other forces are at work — last year’s rough Michigan winter comes to mind — with today’s technology, I can invite guest lecturers from all over the world to offer their perspective on business and entrepreneurship. I can connect students to online demonstrations, giving them access to the best work in their discipline. t’s a far more vibrant, robust environment, exposing students to content and ideas that are often limited by the constraints of the brick-and-mortar classroom.

TECHNOLOGY PROMOTES EQUALITY

Not everyone has the time or money to take months or years off from working or caregiving to sit in a classroom, which makes online education an equalizer. It gives these students the learning opportunities they deserve without asking them to compromise on their other obligations or go into serious debt. Adapting to students’ ever-changing needs via new technologies has been one of the greatest challenges — not to mention greatest privileges — of my career as an educator. I want that for other educators as well. I want them to see the undeniable value of online tools and then, most importantly, harness them to expand opportunities to a whole new generation of learners, dreamers and doers. Times are changing, and I truly believe that where online education is concerned, these changes are certainly for the better.

AMY WOJCIECHOWSKI has been a professor at West Shore Community College for 39 years and serves on the advisory board of the Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, powered by K12, Inc.

To learn more about Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, visit https://mglva.k12.com/

Featured Articles