E-volution

 
 

With the usual low figures of students attending lectures since the beginning of this semester, Faye Docherty and Natasha Murtagh investigate how the online revolution has rendered attending class inessential

Course documents, announcements, contacts, assignments and so much more can all be found on our beloved Blackboard. UCD Connect has brought about a new community of internet-reliant and up-to-date students who seem to be informed on just about everything.

It’s no secret that there are more empty seats in a lecture and more occupied couches at home these days. A majority of students feel that relying primarily on Blackboard is as beneficial as attending their lectures, but will this luxury hinder a student’s experience of college? Will future students of UCD become a generation foreign to the idea of face-to-face contact?

In today’s fast-paced world, it should be no surprise that online education has become increasingly accessible and remains ever expanding. Universities, colleges and institutes are focusing their attention more on web-based education, exploring and discovering what it has to offer.

It is being promoted as the best way forward, yet this can be seen far beyond the Belfield campus. It’s happening in most universities across Ireland and throughout the rest of the world.

Education Editor of The Irish Times, Sean Flynn, makes the point that Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has grasped the concept of online learning to its full potential. MIT has a web-based publication called Open Course Ware (OCW), which contains the entire course content of the various programmes that are on offer at the institute.

The OCW contains the full course material of 200 different undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT, including architecture and planning, science, management, humanities, arts and social sciences. “If the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can do it, I can’t see why we can’t do it,” says Flynn, questioning the inefficiency of Ireland’s online education abilities.

This effortless system for students to attain all information from their lectures without even stepping inside the university’s grounds is a perfect example of where education is heading. Web-based education illustrates how our global community is gradually relying on what technology and the internet can provide for us.

Hibernia College Dublin is another third-level institution that, according to Flynn, has taken advantage of technology and pushed online learning to a successful programme. In their mission statement online, it states that the success of this model is due to it being ‘dedicated to helping professionals meet their current work challenges and by continually building on the interactions of students and faculty’.

On demand content, live virtual classes and learner communities are the three forms of content with which a student at Hibernia will collaborate, all of which are online. For adults with children or mature students who are balancing a job as well as trying to get a degree, this method of learning is ideal.

Flynn says that what Hibernia claims to have done is “the first real test of online learning in Ireland, education based, at a high level, and it’s been very successful, and it shows you how successful this distant form of learning can be”.

With companies and institutes such as Hibernia making great strides in this area, there is no denying Flynn has a point.  Web-based education will help much more than just novice students not bothered to travel into their nine o’clock Monday morning lecture.  It will provide a system so that anybody, at any age, can further their education.

However, this colossal advance in technology regarding education does have its handicaps. Emma O’Reilly, a second-year Business and Law student, says that “most lecturers would put up most of their notes, and that’s basically what they go through in the lectures, and they say they say stuff in the lectures that they don’t put up on Blackboard, but they don’t”.

The fact students are finding more information online does not seem to bother nor hinder the students of UCD. There is no evidence of a decrease in the amount of students completing their degrees after their course has finished because of the option to skip classes and lectures.

Will this burgeoning phenomenon completely change the teaching methods in colleges for future generations and mean the idea of a nine o’clock lecture on a Monday is an alien one?

Gone are the days of chalk and dusters and so we must advance for the benefit of future generations. In the words of John Dewey: “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

Granted students use far less paper and pens, instead choosing to depend on their laptops but isn’t that just a case of students moving along with the times?  Nowadays, it’s impossible to ignore technology, let alone survive without it.

Embracing new ways of learning is essential if universities wish to engage with an ever-changing student demographic. The transformation is already well underway, but how it will change to suit the needs of new students is anyone’s guess.

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