As Montgomery College moved to online courses, educators, administrators and students have all taken the deep plunge into a brave new world of eLearning. Online learning can be very effective, and it certainly brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to audiences who would otherwise not have access to its offerings. I think everyone has approached this with a level of enthusiasm and maturity which is commendable. Prior to this health crisis, we all searched for how to do something on the internet and avidly watched how-to videos. We’re already somewhat used to learning in front of an electronic device. But this is different because it is a necessity, not a choice. And we were thrown into it unprepared.
When I worked in international development aid, I managed several projects in Africa whose objectives were to increase the educational achievement level of the nation. In countries where there are insufficiently trained teachers, where textbooks are unavailable, where schools lack electricity and running water, where you have to pay parents to send their girls to school*, the challenges seem insurmountable. What do you do in a country where few of the teachers have achieved high school graduation and where they are ill-equipped to handle the teaching of most subjects. One idea which has been deployed is to establish a network of schools under a government private data network, provide the schools with computers, electricity and communications, and then broadcast quality videos across the network. Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? Sadly, the results haven’t been as spectacular as was hoped. We learned that the most important indicator for success of any educational program is the quality of the teacher and the close interaction with the student. And this is best done face-to-face.
Here at MC, by necessity we have moved to online learning, and this does work for lecture-type classes. My husband is taking some of the LifeLongLearning classes, which are now offered via Zod. They’ve kept his attention because he has a pre-established relationship with the prof, and this helps him feel connected. My experience is less positive, but I applaud my Figure Drawing prof for setting up Slack and giving us assignments through it. But I didn’t take the course to be alone in my studio. I took it to have live models and to work through the drawing problems in class, with the other students, and with the teacher handy. Further, I think that short assignments would work best in this setting, not a long one where the students can get a bit lost.
*Note: In some countries, girls in rural areas are kept home from school because they have to fetch water or firewood, take care of younger children, or are responsible for household chores. Some UN agencies and NGOs pay the parents if the girls have consistent attendance at school. It has been clearly demonstrated that educating girls dramatically reduces the birth rate especially amongst young girls, reduces infant mortality and maternal morbidity.