Editorial: Online component as complement to classroom
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 02:10
The Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences is currently deliberating over the inclusion of massive open online classes (MOOCs), based on the summertime report of the Arts and Sciences Online Learning and Education Working Group. This is an important step toward cultivating a better online presence, but Tufts must take steps to ensure that MOOCs are used to aid students and professors and not as replacements for necessary time spent in a classroom.
Online education, online tools and MOOCs in general provide another way to build relationships between students and professors and enhance the quality of learning that occurs over the course of a semester. Through interactive online tools, professors will be able to discuss concepts not easily accessible in a 90-minute block with a projector and lecture slides. Open forums will allow students to continue the discussion outside of class, compare their thoughts and interact with teaching assistants more than ever before. Discussions would no longer be limited to recitations and dinner tables; they would occur online and help students formulate opinions and solve academic problems.
Even with these fantastic tools, there is a risk that MOOCs could do more harm than good. Students enroll at Tufts to attend actual Tufts’ classes. There is something intrinsic to education that is lost when a professor speaks to students online from a laptop, rather than in person.
MOOCs are ideal for introductory classes where a multiplicity of students learn broad concepts and the main ideas of a subject. Nutrition 101, for example, incorporates online lectures and discussions with in-person meetings. Trying to teach upper-level courses online, however, would be a detriment to students’ learning experience and the professor’s ability to understand the most effective style of teaching for a particular class.
The basis of Tufts’ residency requirement that students must study for eight semesters on campus, with the exception of pre-matriculation and study abroad credits, is to enrich students’ experiences on the Hill. College is a cohesive experience, and not being on campus or attending classes in person immensely takes away from that. It is important for Tufts students to feel connected to their community of peers and professors.
Currently, with Trunk, the university has the barebones of something that could be productive for members of the Tufts community. Its forums often lie dormant, and some professors have yet to create a page for their class, even though the semester is already more than halfway over. MOOCs could change the way instructors interface with their classes and potentially encourage professors to use the technological resources at their disposal.
While not every class is going to benefit from MOOCs, they remain a valuable resource to both students and professors across campus. As long as they do not abrogate classic brick and mortar classes, MOOCs should be welcomed with open arms.