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Monday, August 03, 2015

Great expectations for online learning fall short by Kate Murray

Kate Murray of New Castle serves on civic, arts and governmental boards at the state and local level reports, "I thought I had a plan, a good idea, but I was disappointed. I thought I would take an online class."

Photo: Kate Murray

I never thought of myself as a candidate for an online course, but I finally found an area that had appeal. I do not generally feel the allure of online classes as I harbor old-fashioned concerns about their efficacy. I am leery of programs like the University of Phoenix where you can get degrees in almost anything, including areas where you need actual, hands-on experience. I also know that places like Stanford and Southern New Hampshire University offer excellent programs and are leaders in setting high standards for online education. In my case, I was not looking for a course for the sake of taking one, but was trying to find a way to better educate myself in a particular area; the architecture of historic houses. It seemed a perfect topic for an online tutorial. 

This was not only an opportunity to learn more about a topic of interest to me, but also an opportunity to experience what online learning is like. I know I use only a fraction of what is available to me online partly because I am hesitant to visit unknown sites, fear of viruses and all that. Sometimes in researching something, I find myself inadvertently visiting a very sketchy site, so I try to be extra careful. 

The explosion of information technology in our lifetimes is staggering to me. I am sure this period of history will be considered one of the most remarkable for all these advances and we are fast reaching the point where most people do not remember what it was like before personal computers. I remember. I wrote my graduate papers on an actual typewriter. At least it was electric. Armed with carbon paper, a trash can and a refrigerator with a freezer in which one could safely store one’s work away from theft or fire, we went about recording our research. 

It was a very big deal when I was on the faculty at UCLA to receive a grant for my very own IBM Selectric typewriter. The grant even included money to purchase the ball which typed italics. You had to pop out the regular ball every time you needed to italicize something, but this was as good as technology got for many of us at the time. I loved that thing and have no idea whatever happened to it. 

Today, online education opens up so much to just about everyone so I searched around for a course in historic architecture because I serve on the New Castle Historic District Commission. I have always been of the opinion that everyone, in some way, should participate in their local community, whether that be volunteer work in the schools or library or participating in local government. It is unfortunate that some people defer because they know they will have to deal with the crankiest among us. Others feel they don’t have the expertise or knowledge. Dealing with cranks is one thing, but anyone can learn the necessary content in a fairly short amount of time, perhaps even online.

Source: Foster's Daily Democrat