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Is e-learning “Bad” Education?

boerka235.jpgThe Dutch Education Minister, Ronald Plasterk, wrote in a letter to Parliament that the wearing of face-covering clothing was incompatible with the education process because of the importance of non-verbal communication” and that the ban should extend to students, teachers, and school visitors. A Dutch government website said that “good education depends on teachers and students being able to see each other. If one of them wears a face-covering garment, good communications become impossible.”
Plasterk is a former professor of molecular microbiology at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, where my friend, Frances Brazier, is a computer science professor. I called her to ask her what she thought about the proposed ban. Frances said that as a university professor, Plasterk was clearly used to looking at faces. In Frances’ experience, even in a large lecture hall, she looks at her students and gauges their comprehension based on their reactions. Facial expressions are part of what make teaching a dialog between Frances and her students. She went on to point out that The Netherlands is a densely populated country where even the Open Universiteit Nederland has many groups of students who meet in person.
Frances has taught online and prefers the classroom because she likes seeing her students’ faces instead of talking to a wall or camera. I have also taught online and, even with videoconferencing or photographs, I find that I miss the richness of face-to-face interaction. I believe it is possible to get to know students well without ever seeing them, as well as for students to get to know each other. Of course, some of this depends on which of the many types of e-learning is being used.
Certainly we are all becoming increasingly adept at online communication – and at taking online courses. Forgetting about attire, there are cultural and regional differences that impact communication. I find myself speculating about the differences between the attitudes in The Netherlands and in less densely populated or larger countries. While Frances said the furor has died down, issues about what constitutes good education and good communication will continue to surface.

9 Responses

  1. Thanks Lisa – you have described one of the defining differences between online and face to face learning.
    I have been researching and using online blogs to find out the experience of online learners. I am coming to the end of a major research project on this subject as part of my professional doctorate in educational psychology.
    I have found that confidential online blogs can offer a way for the online tutee to share their honest experiences with tutors. Tutors then have the opportunity to respond and adjust their tutoring and instructional design. Too often monitoring and feedback happen after the course and it is too late to change the experience of those on the course. It is also difficult to collect the experiences of those who have dropped out.
    This is not the use of blogs as reflective learning diaries but specifically provide a new feedback mechanism which tutors will interpret and which can act like the interpretation made of non-verbal messages by tutors.
    Mark Turner
    Real Training (www.realtraining.co.uk) & University of East London
    BTW I have lectured in Kuwait and was able to teach a wonderful mixed group of students, some of who chose to be covered. As long as our assessment methods are reliable and valid I wish to make learning as accessible as possible to all.

  2. While I agree that face-to-face communication provides many non-verbal communication cues, my guess is that the issue here is not really the quality of education.
    In my experience, many teachers spend half of the class period with their back to the class while writing on the board. And when their face is towards the students, they are often busy taking notes and not looking at the teacher. A good teacher can still tell who is slouching and half asleep and who is taking good notes without being able to look each student directly in the eye.

  3. Maybe we need to move from thinking about “quality of instruction” as uni-dimensional to thinking instead about qualities of instruction and how they differ across modalities. It’s not a question of whether elearning is good but rather what it is good for, in which contexts, and how that situational goodness can be increased.
    An easy way to raise this issue is to ask what students are to do if they can’t travel to a physical classroom or are physically unable to sit through a F2F class.

  4. I agree with Mike Becvar’s comment and woudl add that it�s not only the qualities of instruction in the way of which delivery method is chosen but in the way that the actual materials are desing to be used within a specific delivery method.
    I am currently working on an academic university that we launch for a bank in mexico las year. The bank decided to create 3 under grad programs and 2 port grad programs aligned to their business needs.
    We decided that we needed to offer is via distance education beacause of the geographic dispersion. All class sessions are given via Virtual classroom in realtime and we have hired about 90 different professors for a population of 800 students.
    The main difference has been that we work two different angles with our professors:
    1.- with train them (certification level) on the applicable use of the virtual classroom software so the understand how better design their sessions. This process includes practices, voice modulation, content design, virtual classroom interactions and distance education best practices.
    2.- additionally, a group of instructional and graphic designers (experts in virtual classroom material development) work with each professor to design all the materials he will use through out the course.
    This has led to better retention and grade levels, better interaction from all students and better group control for teachers.
    We have hired teachers from the best universities in mexico most of them with more than 15 years of university experience and they all comment that the level of interest, participation, interaction and attention they get through this technology is by far higher than the one the get in their traditional F2F classes.
    Furthermore they all agree that technology allows them to create better content and share knowledge in a more attractive, efficient manner compared to traditional.

  5. Is anyone asking the question “Does this ban imply that the visually impaired cannot learn?”

  6. Great Blog, although I might agree with Plasterk and Brazier, that in
    the online world important cues are missed, I still believe, with technological advances those hindrances are being reduced. I also believe that online communication is a different form of interaction and many have become very adept at it without worrying about what they have missed. They are able to imply and read inflections that others might miss. The persona that we transmit online of ourselves and we create of others is real in our mind and we are able to relate to it as long as it is consistent. This said, this statement does not hold true for all.

  7. Hey, thats quite interesting information.!

  8. I think that this the Best way to go for working Parents, as there is always limit on available time, and e-learning is perfect in this case.

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