Is it Possible? - An Excerpt from Character Formation in Online Education
We live in an era where education institutions are pioneering many new options. As we seek to understand if online education holds potential for the Christian institution, author Joanne J. Jung says it does. In fact, she claims online learning can offer benefits traditional classroom learning can't. Through the pages of Character Formation in Online Education, she guides instructors on how to create online education that matters.
This excerpt finds Jung setting out her argument right out of the gate. Read on to get a taste.
Advertising for online courses is ubiquitous: TV, radio, billboards, newspapers, magazines, the Internet. But are all online courses created equal? The general consensus among students is that online classes are easy. That descriptor, however, does not generally refer to the ease of access to these courses, though they are accessible. Nor does it describe the students’ poolside relaxation while taking the course, though I’m sure that has been done. In this case, easy means completing some reading, adding to a discussion board, and submitting a final paper. The course is essentially taken in isolation with no requirement to interact or converse with anyone — the professor or other students. It is easy to simply go through the motions of learning in order to earn course credit.
On the instructional side, similar impressions exist. Imagine the appeal of teaching a class where the professor appears only in videos, students periodically respond to discussion questions, and a teaching assistant grades the assignments and final paper. Meanwhile, the professor sits on a sandy beach, sipping a tall iced mocha Frappuccino. These professors claim they teach an online course, but they are not really teaching and their students are not really learning. These courses are merely put on autopilot and thus are viewed as easy.
Compare this to a good, in-class learning experience where students are presented with engaging material and the rigors of the class are personally demanding. And of course, nothing beats the personal conversations before or after classes or during office hours where a student’s interaction with her professor could change her life. Face-to-face classroom settings with the personal, unmediated presence of the professor and students can be very effective, but even these do not guarantee relational connections that foster learning. In physical classrooms, just as in online ones, teachers can seem detached and impersonal.
Cultivating effective pedagogy in an online class is possible. Learning outcomes and expectations need not be compromised. Students can engage in transformational learning that impacts their lives. This type of online class is not only possible but may even offer experiences superior to those found in on-campus classes.
Here’s one example. In a typical on-campus class, there are times when a professor presents a question for large-group discussion. The percentage of students who respond is relatively low, perhaps 10 – 15 percent. Students who require time to process information and form their own thoughts are conscious of the time constraints. Before their viewpoints are defined enough to articulate and the risk is low enough to communicate those thoughts out loud, the opportunity to respond has already been seized by more prepared, spontaneous, or unreserved students. As a result, the usual handful of regulars contribute to discussions, but the majority of students prefer or feel forced to remain silent and less involved in the learning process. Meanwhile, the professor feels the need to continue presenting more information or responding to other questions or comments. One of my students, Zach P., once commented, “I am a person who might have input on a topic, but in a classroom setting, by the time I have gathered my thoughts, the conversation has moved on to the next topic.”
The kind of well-organized and carefully designed online class described and promoted in the following pages uses a variety of visual, audio, and written media. Assignments are designed to foster interaction with fellow students and the professor. The depth of students’ interaction is developed as they process thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and even feelings. The online format, an education without borders, provides a plethora of opportunities to engage with students in their learning and character formation.
Technology now allows the professor to take advantage of a number of features where students are able to see the personality behind the course — the Oz behind the curtain — as they are learning and become known and impacted by the professor. A part of the professor’s life makes an imprint on students’ lives. Online education, if it is going to affect character formation, deserves pedagogy that inspires.
Character formation is more than an outward, behavioral, or moral change. It deals with who one is now and who one is becoming over the long haul in his or her life. Whether in ordinary, everyday life or in the challenges and trials that force the true self to emerge, whether in the presence of eyewitnesses or in the solitude of seeming obscurity, character formation is an ongoing work. Godly character formation is aligned with spiritual formation, as its goal is growth in an honest relationship with self as a whole person, with others, and with God.
It deals with the default self, the real self. It is developed by what one allows to enter most deeply into one’s heart and soul and is the lifelong response to the grace of God by the power of his Spirit in growing likeness of the Son. God’s Word informs this process, as evidence of this lifestyle of godliness has both inward and outward consequences: inward, a growing dependence and trust in God, who proves himself worthy of that trust; and outward, reconciled relationships with others, who matter a great deal to God. Our world needs more pervasively influential, Christ-centered, others-focused people.
There is skepticism among educators about character formation in online education. Many cannot imagine that real transformation can be achieved in any format other than in the traditional model of residential education with in-class face time. Profound spiritual formation, however, can and has happened through quality and effective learning in online education.
If you have settled for the “easy,” uninvolved approach to online education, be warned. The following content will only serve to stir a discontent with that status quo. If, however, a desire is stirred in you to know more about the kind of professor, the kind of course, and the kind
of character formation possible in your online classes, read on. (Pgs 13-15)
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