Monday, July 21, 2008

Poor Grades for e-Learning

As of last week, I have one more year of studies for my online master's in communication at Royal Roads. I'm currently in my sixth class, and classes finish for me in December, as afterwards I'll be working on my thesis.

While I have great respect for the university, the program, and my classmates, I am disappointed in Royal Roads. Despite the occasional good use of online media, there appears to be no overall commitment to e-Learning, instead they seem to rely on standard offline distance learning methods, with forums thrown in. So while I have not got the exposure to innovative e-Learning I had hoped for, there have been unexpected benefits from their approach.

I do like Royal Roads' use of three weeks of on-campus classes per year. The setting is sensational, as are the faculty and support staff - so it is a delight to be on campus.

The standard format of online classes is weekly to do readings and then answer specified questions and discuss via forums amongst one's teammates. There are forums to field questions to the professor, but this is for help and is not a fixture of the class. Essays, as with any university class, are the major basis of grading. There are no lectures per se, which for me is the biggest weakness as I find the readings do not say it all and I would have benefited more from a professor's insight on the subject matter (as we receive during our on-campus time).

Most of the course activity, aside from reading and essay writing, is discussions with one's team (a new team every class). I'm not sure if I lucked out, but I have never taken a class with such a group of intelligent, humourous, and personable people, so discussions are generally lively and insightful. However, there is a serious time commitment to keep up with discussions that is problematic for working professionals.

Of my six classes so far, there have been sporadic examples of e-Learning techniques. The best so far, was for an initial class, that made use of podcast lectures combined with PowerPoint presentations. Another professor held regular Skype discussions (which was the first time I used Skype, I'll admit). Another professor used HTML forms for tests.

My suggestion for improvement would be for Royal Roads to take the most effective and feasible e-Learning techniques and make it a core component of every class. e-Learning is not just about the coolness of technology, it can aid learning, as I experienced with the podcast lectures early on.

My suspicion is that most students don't choose online learning over in-class. Online programs offer more flexibility than traditional programs and that's why they are flourishing. However, face-to-face communication still has advantages and using technology and media effectively can help bridge the gap and maximize learning.

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