Online Class Experiment

There is a lot of hubub at my school regarding getting a master’s degree. In Michigan, a master’s degree without a chunk of teaching experience is a sort of death sentence:  you become too expensive to employ with not enough experience to make the additional money a worthy investment.  However, internationally, there are no teacher’s unions and a master’s degree will  allow you to move up the pay scale, and even seems be a requirement for employment at many international schools worldwide. Teachers at my school chose master’s programs that are intense and fast, finishing in about a year, with one condensed class per month.

Questions about grad school have been occupying my mind for quite some time.  While I was already quite certain that I didn’t want to do an online program for my master’s degree, I decided to take a short online class through the free education website, Coursera.  (Coursera offers courses through universities around the word:  this particular class was associated with a large state university on the west coast.) I work a lot (arguably, “too much”), so I wanted to see what it would be like to add in an extra element to my schedule.  The course was only five weeks long, and focused on teaching strategies surrounding ESL students.  It is a topic I am interested in both on a theoretical level and a practical level, since I work with almost exclusively ELL students and bi- or tri-lingual  students.

I don’t know what went wrong, exactly, but I have come to two conclusions.

My first conclusion is that my undergraduate school really prepared me well for my chosen profession:  my minor is ESL, and even though I only took a few education-focused classes (in comparison to my English and ESL classes), I am decently well-versed in various educational schools of thought.   Why do I say this?  Because I only scanned all of the required readings, and didn’t watch any of the lectures, but still was able to pass all of the quizzes with a 95% average, as well as constructively participate in the required forum postings. Differentiation? Check.  Receptive Skills vs. Productive Skills?  Check. Understanding by Design?  Check.

Obviously, this has exposed my second conclusion:  I need a very specific kind of environment in order to learn without my slacker nature surfacing.  I will energetically watch a random hour long documentary about Nikola Tesla or a ten minute video about the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but will I watch a fifteen minute video on whatever I am supposed  to be learning? (No.) The environment that I need is a lecture:  face to face, engaging, physically present.  I learn less when the class is online.

All this to say, I have realized that, regardless of what degree I chose to pursue and the institution in which I chose to enroll, it can’t be online.  I am not even sure if I would be able to balance a full time job with additional classes.  I suppose I am only on the cusp of finishing my first year of teaching, so in a few years that could be a different matter.

Maybe, as they say, teaching will get easier the second and third year.
Either way, I don’t think I will be hopping on the online master’s bandwagon any time soon.

Sidenote:  I did pass the class.  With “distinction,” too!



3 thoughts on “Online Class Experiment

  1. You have raised an issue dear to my heart – online education, is it really the best way to go? My opinion? It depends on the subject. If you are doing a mathematics degree or some other subject that requires just you and the equation/information, evidence has shown that these students perform better on online courses that face to face courses.

    However if you are dealing with teaching or any subject that requires ‘people centred’ work, online courses can only give about 30% of the necessary information. We ourselves have an online course for language learners, but always push for partnerships with colleges to provide the course with one of their teachers, so the students is getting both the information necessary and the face to face teacher support. We actually find our students who complete these kinds of courses do just as well as (if not better) if it had been a native teacher in front of them.

    Just for your information too, as an employer of ESL teachers, we only employ teachers who have done CELTA or other face to face courses. Sad for the Online TEFL graduates, but true.

    • Thanks for your comment!
      I agree with you: some subjects can be taught throughly and effectively through online learning, but others require a more classic approach. I learned a lot of foundational programming skills when I took a computer science class online, because the information was straightforward and formulaic. My online history class? I learned only a fraction of the information that I would have learned if I had taken the same course in a classroom setting.

      When considering my own language education and development, my ability to learn vocabulary increases exponentially when I am face-to-face with someone. In fact, the best process I have found for my own language development involves a blend of language podcast (so I can hear the words and imitate the sounds without “seeing” the written word, so that the word for “bike” makes me picture a bicycle and not the word written out as “s-e-p-e-d-a”), a bit of flashcard reinforcement, and face to face use… over and over again.

      I think it’s important for language schools in particular to keep that standard high. I have a bachelor’s degree which qualifies me to teach English (writing and literature) and English as a Second Language, so when I go to a language school I want to learn from someone who is dedicated to learning how to teach me the language as much as I am dedicated to learning the language. In my mind, someone who zipped through a quick online certification would not reflect that same level of dedication.

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