Following an increase in online education at the University of Wisconsin, faculty and experts are highlighting the benefits and shortfalls of the university’s initiative to innovate education.
According to UW engineering professor John Booske, UW is steadily increasing the replacement of traditional face-to-face techniques with online education through the use of online lectures, quizzes and homework.
Courses conducted completely online offer students the opportunity to gain degrees or simply take on additional credits in a setting that accommodates their schedules, Booske said. He added online courses are especially beneficial for those who need to work during the day or travel from off-campus locations.
“In some cases, complete online education provides college course instruction to those who otherwise have no access,” Booske said.
UW Interim Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Chris Olsen, a leader of the Educational Innovation effort, said he agreed, adding online courses provide a different avenue for learning.
Online education can potentially provide a self-paced learning strategy for some students, as it recognizes different people learn best in different ways, Olsen said in an email to The Badger Herald. He also said the online system allows the university to reach more students no matter the distance from campus.
Booske said the blended-learning method is additionally seen as an effective form of teaching for on-campus students.
“Online activities enable valuable experiences within the classroom setting,” Booske said.
Listening to a lecture entails receiving information in a one-way manner, according to Booske. He said this is only useful if every aspect of a verbal lecture can be retained, and retaining such information is “neurologically impossible for most students.”
Instead, Booske said online material allows students to break down segments of information into chunks, allowing students to process information efficiently, ultimately promoting in-depth thinking.
“This causes students to be prepared to apply more challenging concepts in class,” Booske said.
According to Olsen, online classes also benefit students with “repeated review of materials online, extensive online discussion forums, sharing of on-going work via wikis” and other online-specific resources.
However, Olsen added there are some negative aspects of online education, noting the drawbacks created when students wish to ask questions immediately.
Suzanna Smith, the associate director for the Wisconsin Collaboratory for Enhanced Learning, said in an email to The Badger Herald programs like WisCEL do attempt to provide immediate feedback by supporting the flipped classroom model, where students get their lecture content online and spend quality, individualized time with their instructors.
According to Smith, WisCEL emphasizes the value of giving immediate feedback and developing fundamental skills through the use of technology.
However, according to a 2012 study by non-profit organization ITHAKA, examining “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities,” results from flipped classroom methods are equitable to the traditional format of face-to-face instructional teaching and are ultimately inconclusive.