ONE would think that online education has been around for hundreds of years by the way colleges and universities roll out dull, boring, standardized classes. There are so many free and usable tools that are available that every course has the possibility of offering student information in creative ways.
In an article titled, Unbolting the Chairs: Making Learning Management Systems More Flexible the authors discuss how each physical classroom has a uniqueness about it that makes it stand out from the others. For instance, when you walk into a art class you see color, design and objects. A history class might have maps, posters, quotes, pictures and other related material. Yet in an online environment, the feel is all the same which robs the student of the tactile/visual experience and excitement of something new.
There are several ways that a LMS can be enhanced using free applications. Google (yes, Google again!) offers mashup maps and several other sites (cited in the article) offer tools that bring learning alive.
In a Travel and Hospitality class I taught at Kaplan, one of the things we did in Week One was to introduce ourselves and share a photo and our location. With that information, I created a Google map that helped us all connect in a way that never happened in other classes. Photos helped us visualize who we were chatting with and the map allowed us to understand time differences and weather issues (tornado season for some, wild fires for others) that we were all dealing with. It helped me as an instructor when I returned to it time and again as a way to connect with these individuals.
The authors write,
“We need to focus on providing faculty and students with a rich array of content-focused learning activities that they can organize to maximum benefit for each student’s learning needs.”
Many times the best way to have a rich array of high protein, high energy learning activities is to invite students to explore existing material, create data using that information and share with each other in an engaging environment.
With an all time low in employment, many people are returning to school to finish or continue their education. If they decide to take online classes, they’ll be plucking down money they received via student loans and will be gritting their teeth, wondering if they made the right choice. Many will have nothing to compare their online experience with and may wonder if it ever gets any better or more exciting. Their first couple classes will have a similar look and feel which will help them organize and understand the online process.
For those students who want to test the waters of an online education, they can go to any university that offers free classes (See OpenCourseWare: Open YourMindWare) and get a good feel for the courses, material, tests, setting and determine their involvement.
When students begin to drop out and the money dries up, institutions will take a closer look at what they could do to improve. The online environment is still so new and innovative that as soon as a university decides to be get creative and tap into existing resources with their LSM, others will follow. Let’s hope that doesn’t take too long!