Is the joy of learning gone from online education?

By Jeremy Cunningham
July 20th, 2017

In a recent discussion about a job offering, I was asked a series of questions about how I conduct myself in a classroom. One question focused on how I engage students, so I shared my experience about working with students in night classes.

These students typically work all day and then come to a 2-3 hour class session; they need that engagement. Another question asked me about how I employ technology in my classroom. Again, I answered with some of my experience using technology in my current jobs.  Most of my answer focused on using tools to help students complete work efficiently.

It was only after I finished the discussion that I realized how divorced my two answers were. None of my engagement strategies connected with my use of technology; all of my engagement involved connecting students with each other and the material in a personal manner. I saw the technology as a separate system.

Writing this monthly column gives me a chance to put my focus on some of the larger issues involving the union of technology and education. I keep an eye on new programs and new approaches to online learning. I get to investigate different agendas of companies and colleges as each institution tries to fully understand how this new paradigm will work.

Occasionally, my gaze is so outward that I forget the real focus of all of this activity is students. The shiny new toys are a means to an end. The end is students. And, the more I listen to students, the more I think our work is far from done.

“Fine” Indicates Something is Missing

This semester I am teaching online composition. Every few weeks, a reflective prompt is given to the students about their progress in the class. These same prompts in a face-to-face class usually yield stock answers of “fine.” The online format consistently yields more explanation and honesty. The responses mostly tell me something may be missing in our offering.

Almost every student, even those who are achieving high grades in the course, acknowledges the challenging nature of the format. They acknowledge the class exceeding their expectations in difficulty, the schedule being hard to manage, and the feeling of disconnect from being online rather than being face-to-face.

Not one, as of yet, has mentioned enjoying the course. I certainly hope they feel it, but the subject has not come up.

(Next page: A disconnect between joy and online learning)