A luddite speaks of online learning

Professor William Price from Eastern Michigan University provides some commentary in the current issue of the Education Week. His commentary is entitled, “The Impending Death of Face-to-Face Instruction.” He provides us with a great definition of a luddite (“Luddites, named for their leader, Ned Ludd, were members of a social movement of English textile workers in the Midlands of England in the early 1800s. Their notoriety occurred as a result of their opposition, often violent, to changes being produced by the Industrial Revolution…”). And he even says that he, soon to be 70, would classify himself as a Luddite around his university. As a former superintendent, Dr. Price discusses the increasing numbers of university level students who are now taking online courses.

Up to this point in the commentary, I agree with Dr. Price. However, he goes on to quote from Neil Postman who said, “digital communication and media “privatize” us, isolating the individual and diminishing community.” And then he says, “our digital transformation, remind us that technology was supposed to connect us, but instead has fostered a kind of social isolation.”

Personally and professionally, I have found that Internet communications and Internet communities have brought many of us closer together. Online courses taught well cause students to become a community. The communications that occur on discussion boards or through synchronous devices such as Elluminate truly do cause individuals to connect and learn from one another in a way that face-to-face instruction can not.

Recently, I facilitated some online professional development for new teachers. They completed short online lessons on topics such as classroom management, engaging student learning, and learning about the value of the school library. In each of these lessons, teachers had to reflect on the reading as well as interact with others who read the same article. In a face-to-face course, if a question were asked about a reading, perhaps a few students would respond. However, in an online course, every student has to respond and contribute and no one can hide.

I would encourage Dr. Price to incorporate an online discussion board in his next education course to learn how online interaction causes communication that is different than face-to-face interaction and causes reflections and interactions that do not occur in face-to-face classrooms. As a professor at Eastern Michigan University, he could use a WebCT course shell to simply have students react to weekly readings though a discussion board.

1 Response to “A luddite speaks of online learning”

  1. 1 L C July 2, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    I completely agree that online discussion is a great outlet for students who would otherwise not speak up in class. It’s a sacred gift for those of us who are shy, or have an easier time expressing ourselves in words. Online discussion allows students to do simultaneous and/or preparatory research for their discussion forums. As long as verbal discussion is still strongly encouraged in a physical setting, another means of discussion for students is not harmful or isolationist. In fact, it acknowledges and embraces the diversity of learners and their settings. It sets the stage for more voices to be heard.

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