Online courses allow students to learn from wherever and whenever, from a desk in a suit and tie to a bed with a pair of pajamas on. They allow flexibility that normal classes just can’t provide. But along with these pros come the cons. The technology involved in online courses varies depending on the class and is often lacking in terms of audio and visuals.
Professors, especially those who are older or simply less tech-savvy, often use Adobe Shockwave – or other outdated software – to record their lessons, which is only supported by laptops created before 2016.
This summer, I took an online course called Poverty, Welfare and Work while home in New Jersey and experienced difficulty accessing the lectures on my MacBook Air because it didn’t support Shockwave files. The only way around it was to use my dad’s old HP laptop and listen to the awful audio, which was quiet and fuzzy, as I squinted my eyes trying to make sense of the script on the PowerPoint because of the small format. I tried relaying my difficulties to my professor about the issue, but he only directed me to the Division of Information Technology. They couldn’t help me either. The issue wasn’t my laptop – it was the outdated software required for the course.
Professors should be required by the University to improve the technology in their courses by using updated software and higher quality equipment. They should use better recording equipment, like a Blue Snowball microphone, and upload files as mp4s or avis, which are supported by most computers. Simply relying on PowerPoints with shoddy voice-overs and outdated files will decrease the quality of learning. Students pay approximately $1,250 per credit for summer online courses – the same amount per credit for traditional courses – and they should be getting the same quality of instruction.
As of now, students can only grin and bear through the outdated software because there is no other alternative on such short notice. They can either be fortunate enough to find another way to view the material, or end up just dropping the class entirely. Online courses are the only method for long distance students to fulfill certain GW credit requirements on their own time, so this situation cannot remain unsolved. Not all online courses are this way, and some do a great job interacting with students from afar, but that should be the standard for all classes. This issue can be resolved with the easy solution of using better, up-to-date software to record lessons so every student can have access to a quality education.
If a professor has no ability to use the newer program due to a lack of technological knowledge, then he or she should be required to take a class on how to use more advanced software and become more technologically adept. Giving professors lessons on how to use better recording technology, like a Logitech C920 webcam or a Blue Snowball USB microphone, can drastically enhance the quality of their courses. It may even inspire them to use technology in more innovative ways in the classroom.
Technology isn’t limited to buying microphones and webcams, or only using programs like Skype to facilitate office hours. If applicable to the class, the professor can introduce new programs that have to do with the field. For example, in my Audience Development class, we learned how to use a program called Chartbeat to analyze website data traffic. It gave students a chance to implement what they learned in class in real-life examples.
It’s not just technology holding back online classes. Students in online courses have already tried to call for changes. In April 2016, a group of former students filed a class action lawsuit against GW for its online graduate program in the School of Professional Studies in security and safety leadership, claiming the online program they registered for didn’t reach the quality they were promised. Specifically, they talk about the lack of instruction provided in the courses and the professor making no effort to communicate with students.
Professors can also simply offer their cellphone number to students if there is any need for direct contact, have students create blogs to show off their work or share podcasts about the topic covered in class. Professors and students can also interact on social media sites like Twitter to have an ongoing conversation outside the classroom. Using methods like this can decrease the gap between professor and student that is notorious in online courses, and give them a more personal feel.
Not only will better technology enhance the student’s learning experience, it will also reduce the negative reputation that can be attached to the online courses, a win-win situation for both students and the University.
Raisa Choudhury, a junior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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