Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Controversy Of Distance Education

It was just really nice to hear that there is a developing alternative method available for people to avail of education even outside the school premises. It was interesting to witness that the world has really been on its track towards globalization and progress. I agree that technological advancement is one of the most evident proofs for almost everyone. I believe that the development of distant education is on its way to being widely accepted by both students and educators because of its inherent and obvious benefits for parties (students and teachers), the government and the business sector. My stand is that distant education, online education, or interactive education, whatever anyone prefers, as an alternative method of knowledge acquisition cannot and should not replace traditional classroom education even if it be an indication of the world's progress.
Andrew Feenberg, in his article entitled "Reflections on the Distance Learning Controversy" has clearly shown favor for the online education as one of the pioneers of such program. His admiration for the purpose of the program is so obvious when he said that "the virtual classroom was a place of intense intellectual and human interaction" (A. Feenberg). I am personally in favor of pursuing distant education, knowing that such method can help a lot non-traditional students. It maybe possible that "intense intellectual and human interaction", as Feenberg claimed, can happen in online education. This is so because intelligent and smart students can be found anywhere else in the world, regardless of their nationality and age, as well as teachers. I also agree that such kind of students can be shaped by online education but like traditional classroom learning, the case is relative. I said so because learning depends on how eager and dedicated students are.
For Feenberg to say that "the quality of these online discussions surpasses anything I have been able to stimulate in my face-to-face" is something I would have to strongly disagree with. Feenberg spoke of his personal experience as an online teacher. The bias here is that not all teachers find the same thing. Linda Sweeney, in her article entitled "Guidelines for Being a Good Online Student" expressed her frustration in having students with bad learning habits who are to be kept reminded of their schedules. The obvious factor here is attitude. One problem with online education is the attitude of instructors, students, and administrators (D. Valentine). The quality of education depends on how the parties involved behave towards online education and how much importance do they place on the program. As one Professor stated, "The students' interest, motivation, questioning, and interaction must be on display throughout the learning process" (A.Arsham). As with the traditional classroom lectures, students and teachers interaction is vital in the learning process. The personal exchange of information and views are indications that both parties are interested on what they are discussing about. When students make queries or clarifications on the lesson, it means that students are taking things seriously.
Face-to-face class discussion has the advantage of on-the-spot monitoring of those who are showing interest because the students and teachers are physically with each other at the same time and at the same place. This means that checking the students' attitudes is immediate. This is hardly possible with distance learning where teachers have to do time-consuming e-mail just to remind students of their schedules. So Feenberg cannot absolutely claim that online discussions can surpass that one done with face-to-face. It is however admirable for Feenberg to admit that distance learning systems cannot replace face-to-face classroom education, as he stressed in his conclusion.
Another vital consideration in the issue of distance learning is the cost involved, which, Feenberg did not fail to pay attention to. While the author enumerated the benefits of distance learning, he did consider that "distance learning is not going to be a cheap replacement for campuses" (A. Feenberg). In his discussion, he looked into the interests of the parties involved relative to the cost of online education: the government, corporations, teachers and students. Feenberg's idea was that the government is interested in cost reduction for educational expenses while the corporations which are to provide the resources are obviously interested with sales and earnings of which I agree with. So the main concern here is the difference between cost efficiency and cost effectiveness. As Doug Valentine quoted Atkinson's statement: "it is possible for a program to be efficient but not cost effective if the outputs which are actually produced do not contribute to the program objectives: that is it may be efficient at doing the wrong things" (Atkinson, 1983).
With the actual cost of education as computed by Weber, the government does not actually have the assurance of achieving both cost effectiveness and cost efficiency. If the cost of training teachers, the cost hardware and software, human resources such as technicians and other people involved are to be considered, we can say that establishing online education is not as cheap as it may seem for others. Valentine stressed that "the costs associated with training technicians and instructors should not be overlooked"; citing the fact that online education requires a minimum of three persons in one setting compared with one instructor in a traditional setting.
Another thing is that online education cannot promise the quality. One reason is that there are still no clear standards set for the accreditation of this type of education. Another concern is that graduates of online courses do not have the hands-on training of their courses as reflected by the limitation of communication and training facilities. "Students also need the attention of the instructors" (D. Valentine). Considering the limitations of distance learning, I believe that the required attention from teachers will be a far more enduring task for teachers. It maybe far easier to remind students face to face than to do some emails, which gives no assurance when the students will receive the message. Worse, there is assurance that the instructions are clear for the students, or if they are, the feedbacks will obviously be delayed.
One more point to ponder on is the students' social growth. Because distance education involves only a small group who do not have frequent interactions, the social aspect of the students might be at risk. Students do not learn only on formal and educational conversations. As social beings, it is important that they too interact with others and have informal talks or converse with lighter topics. "These students miss the social contact and face-to-face interaction that an institutional setting provides" (S. Arsham). The challenge therefore is "for online courses to build and sustain a sense of growing community at levels that are comparable to the traditional classroom" (D. Valentine).
Lastly, I would like to give credit to Feenberg for navigating both sides of the issue of distance learning. While he was able to clearly present the benefits of online education, he is open to admitting the limitations of the program. Yes, Feenberg is right when he admitted that technology must be regarded as a medium of learning and not as replacement for the human factors, who are the traditional instructors. On the other hand, I also agree that teachers should not resist the development of online education and view it as a threat to their profession. Distance learning must serve as a challenge for them to cope up with economic and technological changes as part of the world's progress. The government must treat online education as better educational tools but not as replacement for school campuses. I believe that focusing on the needs of the poor people, who cannot even afford to attend even traditional education, is better than investing on distance education where obviously fewer people can afford.

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