The Columns

Case: All About The Experience

— by on June 8th, 2015

by Elizabeth Case

As years pass by, computers get smaller, cell phones get faster, and cars get more automatic. It is no secret that our world is developing new technology with one goal in mind: to make whatever needs to be modified more efficient. With an increase in efficiency comes an increase in reliance on technology—as technology does more and more for us, we have less and less to do for ourselves. Since new technology has helped to make our lives easier, we try to implement it whenever we can: in business, in communication, and even in education. In April 2015, Arizona State University announced that by Fall 2016, freshmen will be able to complete their entire first year of college online. Although other universities may not be making as drastic of changes, they are certainly searching for ways in which students can fulfill some of their required courses online. At a glance, this increase in efficiency may appear beneficial to both students and faculty; however, when you look closer, you realize that this adjustment would cause students to miss out on many key learning experiences throughout their college careers.

When a student takes courses online, he or she misses out on what Andrew Delbanco calls “lateral learning” in his book, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be. In an intimate classroom setting, students and professors can interact with each other and explore the materials that they read. During these interactions, they form new hypotheses and discoveries, as well as arrive at new questions. In an online course, this is not possible. A live class is composed of a unique array of students with different backgrounds and perspectives. This allows students to question not only the professor’s but also each other’s ideas and opinions, resulting in a conversation and conclusion distinct to a given class. A professor can give two separate classes the same readings and ask them the same questions, but the conversations will never be identical. This experience unique to a real classroom setting can clearly never occur in an online course, thus putting students who take classes online at a disadvantage. A main component of the so-called “college experience” is learning not only from your professor, but also from your peers—an aspect unattainable in online courses.

To me, one of the biggest dissimilarities (if not the biggest) between high school and college is living on your own. In high school we have curfews, chores, and other sets of rules. Our parents more or less control our lives, giving us relatively little independence. However, once we unpack all of our belongings in our dorm room and send our parents on their way, we have a newfound independence that we have never had before. No one forces you to wake up in the morning to go to class. No one tells you that you cannot go out to a party on a given night. No one is there to bring you to the doctor when you’re sick. From this experience, students learn how to mature and take care of themselves, while still having their college or university at hand if they need anything. College is one step closer to the real world. Those who take online classes do not have the advantage of easing their way into the working world. They would be overwhelmed by the vast differences between living at home with Mom and Dad and living alone in the working world. Not only this, but students taking online courses would also miss out on maturing and becoming an adult. College students generally have to deal with their own healthcare, classes, bank accounts, travelling, and rent, skills that are valuable in the real world. Doing all of this on their own would not simple overwhelm online students, but probably be impossible for them, making their important first years at work extremely strenuous.

In our busy world, it is easy to confuse fast for efficient. Just because something takes a shorter time, does not mean it is better; in fact, too often processes are rushed and people make mistakes. One of the main arguments for MOOCS (massive online classes) is that students can take classes and earn credits whenever they want, allowing them to fulfill their course requirements quickly. I believe that there is a reason that college has historically lasted four years. Each year, a student matures a great deal; the difference between a freshman and senior in college as far as maturity goes is drastic. Attempting to speed up the college experience could be very harmful to students, as they do not have the opportunity to fully mature and learn from their mistakes. Furthermore, taking online classes to cut a year or even a semester off of college is not necessarily efficient. As discussed in Nathan Heller’s article “Laptop U,” the grading and feedback methods of MOOCS are shaky at best, meaning that the class may not be as valuable to a student as sitting in a classroom and waiting an extra four months to graduate.

On one hand, there is no harm in taking one or maybe two online courses in order to fulfill general requirements. On the other hand, online classes start to become dangerous when students use them to complete a whole year’s worth of courses. We get much more out of a classroom setting in which students and professors have lively conversations about the existence of free will than we get out of sitting in front of our computers listening to a voice explain what the mockingbird symbolizes in To Kill A Mockingbird. Students are not able to form their own opinions and ideas with online courses, a talent nearly priceless in the real world. In addition, a high school student needs a fair amount of time to mature before tackling the working world all by his or her self; college is the perfect place for a student to do that. Although it appears that higher education is on track to be completely online, this cannot be the case, because the college experience would be lost, degrading the value of college itself tremendously.

Elizabeth Case, of the Class of 2018, is from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.