Web courses cannot replace classrooms
Online classes are growing. According to a U.S. Department of Education report, more than one million students from kindergarten through 12th grade took online classes in the 2007-2008 school year. Many students at the University and other colleges across America engage in them as well. But with the growing appeal of online classes comes a serious debate: Do Internet-based courses provide the same quality of education as their old-fashioned counterparts? While we think that there are benefits to online instruction, we do not feel that they can or should replace the physical classroom experience. At most, Internet classes should be used as supplements, not as substitutes.
One of the major problems with online courses is the lack of interaction with a teacher or professor. This is detrimental on two levels. First, there is no teacher or professor to which students are accountable. As such, there is very little motivation for students to work their hardest and actively engage with the course material. With physical classrooms, the professor's presence acts as a sort of goad. Sure, a student may think they do not need to go to class because they can learn the material on their own, but the threat of losing points because of absences spurs many of them to attend anyway. As it often turns out, students cannot learn everything on their own. Actually being present for class often results in a student learning more than they even thought there was to learn in the first place.
The second level on which this lack of professors is detrimental is that it makes seeking help much harder for students. In traditional classroom settings, a student having a difficult time with material can approach their professor in person — that is what they are there for. When it comes to online classes, students often have nowhere to turn beyond Google, which usually just inundates them with a slew of useless sources that do not actually explain anything as well as a real human being could.
When it comes to integrating the web with classes, we think the best way to go is the hybrid route, which uses online materials and coursework as supplements to an in-class experience with a professor. With this, students get the best of both worlds. Sacrificing desks and lecture halls for keyboards and web browsers is a risk that not every student can overcome. We are certain that there are students who have had good experiences with online classes, but we are also certain most students do not benefit in the same way from Internet courses as they do from the real thing.