It was only a matter of time before colleges and universities seized on the idea of using new technology to increase the amount of people they could reach. Online classes have been around for a long time, and more and more institutions of higher learning are offering students the opportunity to earn entire degrees without setting foot on a college campus.
On one hand, distance learning is cheaper and more convenient for non-traditional students. MU offers a steadily growing selection of online courses, and with recent announcements about budget cuts, one proposed solution was to increase the distance learning program.
In a recent New York Times article, Karen Swan of the University of Illinois Springfield said the main issue preventing people from taking advantage of higher education is a lack of time. If people could take courses on a more flexible schedule, she argued, it would make obtaining a degree more realistic.
Author Anya Kamentz said online education could teach certain subjects faster and more effectively than traditional in-class methods.
These are all valid and practical points. But as much as college is about the education, isn’t it also about the experience? Going away from home, sharing a tiny dorm room with a total stranger, meeting people from different cultures … as college students, we’re put into situations we might not have chosen on our own. And often times, these are the most valuable learning experiences.
My freshman year in college was a time of constant excitement. It wasn’t just getting my first real taste of freedom; it also came from the knowledge that I was continuously growing as a person. Any college or university provides a multitude of opportunities – speakers, concerts, cultural celebrations, international activities … the list goes on. Coming from small-town Wyoming, these were opportunities I hadn’t had before.
I remember sitting in the lobby of my dorm with a group of floormates during my first month of college and being astounded by what was going on around me. Within the bigger group, smaller conversations had sprung up.
These people were from all over the world. Us small-town Wyomingites were interspersed in a group that included students from Japan, Ecuador, South Korea, Vietnam, France, Africa. Not only were they telling us their stories, they were animatedly asking us questions about our culture and how we grew up. Everyone was fascinated by everyone else and what they could teach us, and even now, years later, I remember this first year and how it helped change me into the person I am now. I can’t imagine that, had I simply taken classes online, I would have even a fraction of the knowledge and awareness I have now.
So the debate goes on. What do you think?