Online Curriculum–is It Improving?

From a link in Wes Fryer’s post today, the following video from Dr. Jose Bowen of SMU really hit home:

Online multimedia tools (podcasts, videos, slideshow tools) enable professors to deliver lectures online and, in turn, facilitate authentic learning through discussion and exploration in the face-to-face setting. What an inspiring vision that is! How I wish that this kind of leadership and vision proliferated in today’s schools and universities!

I envision a totally online classroom being successful with this model too, if discussion boards are adequately facilitated by interested and skillful faculty. Unfortunately, in my recent online grad classes at a Texas university certainly did not engage me in this way. I’m wondering if most online courses–both 9-12 and university–are so poorly designed.

My daughter, a sophomore in college, is currently living the nightmare of poor online curriculum design, and it is such a shame! This summer, she has taken both an online German language, and a political science class to satisfy degree requirements at her university. They have both been horrifically tedious for her and I would dare to guess that very little authentic learning has taken place–it’s been more about us paying for the course and her checking the course off her list. I daresay no meaningful learning has taken place, although she has earned A’s in the classes. Very frustrating in a time when an engaging and community-enhanced curriculum could have provided a rich experience.

Her current poli sci course literally consists only of reading a chapter from the breathtakingingly expen$ive text, and taking a 20-question online multiple choice quiz over it. Repeat–for twenty chapters! To be fair, the professor has tried to provide some relevant contemporary content to the course by assigning several extra credit readings (even John Stewart’s America) and Frontline videos. She’s really enjoyed those, and has wanted to talk about them–fortunately, she has her father and me! There is absolutely no collaborative element to the class, and unfortunately, the interesting, contemporary content serves only as extra credit–how many of the students don’t even bother to do the extra credit, much less discuss it with someone?
Watch video/take quiz/get extra points. No discussion or exploration of the subjects at all? Can’t we do better than that?

Are most online courses utilizing the multimedia and collaborative tools in the way that Dr. Bowen encourages at SMU, or is my experience and that of my daughter the norm? Are more engaging programs on the rise, I hope?

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