Point vs. Counterpoint

Point: Online Teaching Should Replace Conventional In-Class Techniques

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

With the evolution and proliferation of the ubiquitous computer, there has been an increasing incorporation of the use of computer-based teaching methodologies, including web-based teaching. The use of computers in the education system was proposed in the early 1960s by Patrick Suppes and Richard C. Atkinson in the psychology department of Stanford University. Since then, the use of computers has really proliferated due to the ease with which information can be transmitted between computers. With the advent of the internet, this possibility further propagated across the world and in the early 90s, the first online course management tool was set up.

Online education plays an important role in distance education. Distance education expands the access to high quality educational resources while simultaneously alleviating capacity concerns and promoting equal opportunity education irrespective of socioeconomic status. The University of Waterloo presently offers 281 online courses. These courses allow one to satisfy their course requirements (especially for complementary studies electives)  whenever they please and wherever they please. This has been a huge boon for students on co-op who would like to take interesting courses that are only offered seasonally. It thus allows a huge degree of flexibility as far as sequencing the order of courses required in order to satisfy all the requirements. For example, if I want to take a course on “biophysics” because I am interested in the topic, I can take online courses during the co-op term to satisfy the academic requirements for a CSE while simultaneously freeing an empty slot for when I get back to campus (thus allowing me take other courses that interest me).

In regions of the world where education is normally a privilege enjoyed by a few, online education allows for a larger audience to develop their skills in a successful and effective manner. This is evident by the fact that the biggest university in the world with 3.5 million students, is the “Indira Gandhi National Open University” in India. This University graduated 135000 people in the year of 2010. Evident from here, online learning is an effective (some would argue that  it is the only) way to manage such massive volumes of students. The effective dissemination of educational information via electronic methods also means that a larger portion of the population have access to educational services for improvement of national human resources. Evident from recent trends, there is vast amount of knowledge required for the success of an individual in today’s job market and online learning serves as a viable resource for the furthering of education well past the constructs of normal lecturing and assists the holistic development of an individual.

Online education is also a mighty convenient way to learn. Different individuals enjoy different methods of learning. The fact that online education often allows the individual to take lessons whenever in the day they please, this allows for the individual to take lessons at their own pace and at their own choosing. This allows for one to be engaged in learning whenever they please while still managing other activities, such as a job. This idea of asynchronous learning allows for a student to complete their work in a low-stress environment. An often criticized aspect of asynchronous learning is the fact that the student cannot engage with the instructor in a manner similar to traditional learning. A person cannot raise his hand to ask a question in the middle of the lecture and two-way interaction is limited. However, in my opinion, this helps the student improve his research skills to find the answers to his questions. With the advent of the internet and the abundance of information resources, effectively finding what you are looking for is a skill that is essential in today’s competitive work environment. People have had an increasing access to resources unlike ever before and extracting the useful information for heaps of only slightly relevant data is an essential skill.

Recently, there have been huge leaps and bounds of evolution in the online learning over the past few years. With the advent of broadband internet, video learning has enabled synchronous education over the internet via video sharing. An example of this that I have seen personally is the service offered with the B.C. provincial government for the tutoring of high school children. Furthermore, there has been an increase in what some people call “open learning”. Various NGOs have effectively used the internet for the development of education. Examples like Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseWare, Udemy etc. are a prime example of what is possible through effective online education. Despite these resources being not for credit, they have definitely helped in the effective understanding of concepts complementary to what is taught in class. These websites have helped me understand several fundamental concepts better than any friend’s explanation. Access to these resources has really promoted the acceleration of learning for children who are otherwise bored by the regular constructs of schooling. Online resources such as Code Academy has enabled eight year olds to develop apps, websites and other such projects.

In conclusion, I think online education is an important tool for the furtherment of human resources in any society. Online education has enabled things that would otherwise be deemed impossible. Although there are a lot of avenues for improvement of technology, it has had a massive impact, despite being only two decades old. I envision a bright future for online education and hope that the improvements continue the way they have thus far.

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