The topic of online education, specifically relating to teaching writing in a distant learning environment was covered by Professor Kate Kiefer. Kiefer is a Professor and Writing Integration Coordinator at Colorado State University. She has a PH.D in rhetoric from Carnegie Mellon University and has written numerous published articles, including three textbooks. In the book “Brave New Classrooms”, Professor Kiefer writes a chapter titled, “Do Students Lose More Than They Gain In Online Classrooms?” Professor Kiefer tackles the difficult questions of just how much are students getting out of online writing classes. What is the goal of an online student? Kiefer clearly has an issue with distance education and voices her opinion of its inferiority to a classroom environment. Her numerous assertions of distance learning students not getting the complete education experience must be taken for what it is, an instructor’s point of view and not a student’s. Online education is becoming more prevalent every day, because not everyone has the time or funding to get to and from a college campus.
This method should be embraced by instructors and not talked down on, simply because there is no other option for so many. Professor Kiefer wholeheartedly states in her article, that she believes taking an online writing class is inferior to a traditional structured classroom environment. She states that she is not in the majority on this issue, but she speaks of the many difficulties that face a student and teacher online. One of Professor Kiefer’s most adamant points against online writing classes is the true lack of interaction a student can have. She talks of how so many online classrooms have students who do not participate and do only what is needed to pass the class. Kiefer suggests that on-line classes are often full of students who are looking to check a box and get that next check mark, which will take them to finish line and a degree. She also states how not having peer to peer interaction robs the online student of so much valuable education. In a writing class it is pivotal she states to have your fellow students peer review your work and not just have the teacher looking at your assignment.
She covers the issue of how universities are trying to add more and more students online, because when it all boils down to it, money is what they are after. Professor Kiefer goes over a few ideas of how to make an online writing class better, such as requiring participation in discussions, but eventually she feels that online instruction in writing classes, leave the student short of what a teacher would like them to learn in a class. Professor Kiefer is very adamant on the loss of personal interaction in online writing classes and how it diminishes the importance of personal interaction, which to some extent is very true. In a recent article published by the “Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks”, documenting over 125 traditional face to face classes, it found “very strong support for the existence of a community of inquiry that is shared within each class section”. (Fernandes, Oct 2013)
While It may be almost impossible to capture the same type of peer to peer interaction in a distance learning course compared to a traditional classroom, the study does not take into account that many online students have a network of support they are able to bounce ideas off of. While the journal study names student networking as a weakness to online classrooms, it does not really mention the fact that many physical classroom environments have students that do not want to participate. Professor Kiefer also addresses the high dropout rate of online students. This makes me wonder if the dropout rate is due to non-flexibility within the school offering the classes of if it is students just not taking it seriously. A recent study published in “Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks” by the Dean of Online Education at Dallas Baptist University noted that “their university offers thirty-four online degree programs and Dallas Baptist University has maintained a 92% course completion rate” (Shelton, Oct 2009).
I would have liked to have seen professor Kiefer give the standard dropout rate of traditional classroom students at a university. It is very possible that online education is still in such an evolving state, that there are many different factors leading to a high dropout rate. Many schools have not properly trained their faculty in correctly dealing with online education, while some of it is definitely the daily lives of online students that get it in the way. Professor Kiefer makes many valid points on her topics, however the reasons she gives regarding why students take online courses, are the exact reasons they must continue. People with jobs and forty hour work week can’t take time out to drive to the university every day.
Online classes have been going for a number of years now, but it is still in its infancy compared to classroom instruction. There are still so many ideas created each day that can make this learning environment better. Professor Kiefer makes a good argument regarding the negative impacts of online writing classes, but the reason we have online classes to start with are why they can’t stop. The goals of online students are the same as other students, they want to better their lives and further educate themselves. That lifeline cannot be taken away, because there are doubts about its effectiveness. It is up to everyone to keep making strides and improving the experience of online education.
Fernandes, B. R. (Oct 2013). Measuring the Community in Online Classes. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(3), pp 115-136. Kiefer, K. (2007). Do Students Lose More than They Gain in Online Writing Classes? In Brave New Classrooms. (Vol. 37, pp. 141-151). New York, NY: Peter Lang USA. Shelton, K. (Oct 2009). Does Strong Faculty Support Equal Consistent Course Completion?: It Has for Dallas Baptist University. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 13(3), pp 63-66.
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