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Benton Summer Project: Reflections, Part II

By Peter Tschirhart on September 4, 2014

A small group of Benton Scholars took MOOCs during the summer of 2014. Participation was voluntary, and no Colgate course credit was granted. After finishing, we asked each student to write a response capturing their thoughts and reactions to this experience. Selected responses are reproduced below. Please note: the opinions expressed here are those of students–not the Benton Scholars program or Colgate University more generally.

Click here to find out more about the project behind these posts. Click here to learn more about the upcoming Online Education Symposium being sponsored by the Benton Scholars program.

Grace Western ’17:

This summer, I decided to endeavor on a project I never thought I would be active in: the online classroom. My stance on online education had already been formed due to my love of interactive classes full of discussion between professors and students. But I was given the chance to take a course this past summer, and so I thought, “it will only further my current beliefs, or dispel them to help me see the benefits of online education that I had been overlooking.”

I decided to take a course titled, “Tangible Things; Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens, and the Stuff Around You,” offered through HarvardEx, because I thought it encompassed a variety of subjects while on the main path of an art history course.

This course greatly disappointed me. It was laid out into 9 topics/sections, which were then further subdivided into compartments on how you would “learn” the material. I watched videos, read articles and documents, virtually explored Harvard’s museums, responded and discussed questions and problems, and then had a self reflection of my completion of the tasks. Though the professors attempted to make the material engaging and intellectually stimulating, most of the time spent for this course seemed mundane. The videos were long and drawn out, the readings, often incredibly lengthy and numerous, were about objects that I struggled to devote an hour or two to reading.

However, the questions posed to the students, which were reflective of our own lives and how they related to what we were learning, were definitely the highlight of the course. By attempting to come up with the best examples, descriptions, and explanations for the questions posed, a very thoughtful and thorough analysis of my life and my surroundings was required. Unfortunately, not all the topics/sections possessed these great questions, which were the redeeming factor for the course. Additionally, this area in particular is where I would have loved feedback from a professor; how to grow and expand an idea, look at it from another perspective, or just receive general feedback. The professors of the course did respond to some students answers on the discussion page, however those were only a couple students, out of the hundreds that took the course. Another downfall is that there was no ability to ask questions to the professors to help further understand the material. Yes, we could email them, but explaining to a student who does not understand something is not often easy, or successful, over the computer.

One of the reasons I am such an advocate for an in-class education is the ability to have someone more experienced and knowledgeable help explain and teach subjects, ideas, theories, and areas that are foreign to you. Furthermore, because of the personal interaction, professors have invested themselves in your education. This just cannot happen online, and this course has further solidified this notion for me.

Allison Zengilowski ‘17:

The process of participating in an online class was an interesting one. The structure of the course I took, “Presumed Innocent? The Social Science of Wrongful Conviction,” consisted of two lessons, including various readings and several interviews, followed by a quiz. I very quickly realized that if I could find a three to four hour time period to block out of my day, I could complete all of the work in one sitting, and typically do better on the quizzes than when I interacted with the material over multiple days.

Although I clearly understand these habits were not conducive for interacting with the material more, and hopefully thus retaining it more, it was easier. I also did not have anyone to speak with about the class, which was rather frustrating. There were online forums, but with thousands of people in the class, it would take far too long to comb through all of the posts. Personally, I prefer being able to interact and have discussions face-to-face. The online forum element was a good alternative, but personally, I did not feel inclined to participate, as most everyone would post things related to themselves rather than conversing back and forth.

What I did like about taking the online class was how the grade was not the main focus. Quizzes could be taken twice with the intent that if I did make a mistake, I could look at the exact question, comb through the text again, and find the correct response. This did make me learn more, especially things I, clearly, did not have a firm grasp on the first time around. Rather than merely placing an exam in one of my notebooks after receiving a decent grade, I was motivated to go back and physically correct my mistakes. In the online class setting, it was clear that learning was the goal. I appreciated the stress-free environment of learning for the sake of it. I wish this attitude could be transferred into a classroom setting here at Colgate.

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