About eight years ago as the Internet began to take off futurists began predicting the great change that would take place in K-12 education in our country. Students would no longer go without subjects, they would just hop online and take a class in cyberspace. Well, it’s 2003 and with the exception of a few isolated schools in the high plains nothing has changed. The need for physical contact between our youth and their teachers still reigns supreme. It comes down to a simple case of companionship; young students need the physical presence of an adult, whether it is a teacher or a parent in the case of home schooling.
However, this rule does not apply to colleges and universities. Many are jumping into the cyber education arena. Their efforts have paid off especially in the area of continuing education and advanced degrees. Several of my fellow teachers have taken courses online over the past few years in areas very specific to their desires or requirements. No longer does a teacher need to wait for summer vacation to travel to a distant university for two weeks of intensive classes. One only has to find the time to get online for an hour or two a day at most. What was once an obscure event offered by an eccentric professor is now a major part of a university’s course catalogue.
Last spring I began searching for the right Masters program involving educational technology. Portland State University has a fine program; problem was that it is a 45-60 minute drive or light-rail ride into town each way. I just couldn’t see sacrificing the extra 2 hours a day in transportation time two or three days a week. Next was the University of Phoenix. The classes were close by, but the costs were just too high in comparison. Then, in my mailbox at school were brochures from Walden University and Wesleyan University. Wesleyan University’s program looked the most interesting, however, once a year I needed to travel to their campus for two weeks. Walden University on the other hand, offered all courses online. All books and videos were included in the price, which as anyone who has paid for textbooks knows are outrageously expensive per semester. I was looking at a student loan that allowed me to cover ALL my costs. Finally, the tuition bill was the lowest of the bunch and they are Mac friendly. So, Walden became my choice.
How does cyber education work? About a week before each semester begins I receive reading materials and videos for both classes. The courses last 8 weeks each. I watch a video of an in-service lecture. Read the text requirements, take a quiz. Participate in an online discussion usually involving a real world question that each student answers. Then I go and read other students answers and give them my replies. Finally, I am asked to submit a paper that is submitted and returned graded all through cyber space. That is one unit. Two units are required each week. In addition, I write both a mid-term and final paper. It’s a pretty intense week and some serious time management is required to balance class work, grading, lesson planning, and family time. I can tell everyone that the VCR is usually rolling four nights a week.
I have just finished my third course (the first during the school year) and I can say that I am very glad that I chose the cyber route. For one, I have become in my forties, a morning person. I know I wouldn’t have done very well taking evening courses. I still do most of my work at night, but at a slower pace than what would have been going on a in a classroom. Second, I watch the videos early in the morning, usually from 6:30 to 7 just before I go off to work. My mind is quite sharp and I usually can pick up on some debatable point in the video that I can discuss in the discussion board or my paper. Third, I am able to change when and where I study, as I need. No longer am I forced to be someplace at a certain time for continuing my education. My family can still come first.
It is my firm belief that in the next ten years a full third of all advanced degrees will be earned through online studies. The very best schools and programs will be available to everyone, not just those geographically or monetarily in position to take advantage. The paradigm has shifted and this time it looks to be for the betterment of the masses.