For most of us, the future of learning is something both far off and not a priority, especially when right now you probably have four projects due, a test tomorrow and a group assignment after that. What does it truly matter to any of us where this university might be long after we’re gone and making something of our lives? To me, it’s a dialogue I think about a lot after being introduced to the world of online learning.
I have spent the last two years of my undergraduate ‘career’ working as a student assistant in the online department here at Sam, and that alone truly opened my eyes to the depth of what’s put into that online Criminal Justice class you’re in or the correspondence course that’s driving you bonkers. There’s a whole world of untapped potential in the realm of online learning and online degrees, and it’s a space I hope to see Sam move into eventually more in the future.
With that in mind, however, online learning comes with certain unique challenges that aren’t always apparent. Speaking with Dr. Jacob Blevins, the new chair of the English department, I was granted more insight into that. Having taught online at his previous school, McNeese University, Dr. Blevins described the issues he encountered with teaching online. “It’s alright,” he said noncommittally when asked about if he enjoyed teaching online. “The problems truly come in with student engagement and that personal connection that’s impossible to obtain outside of the classroom.”
That issue is something we have all probably first-hand witnessed. I’d taken several online classes prior to graduating, and sometimes the professor seemed more like an unattainable entity than someone actually approachable. It’s easy to push off an online class when time management is a weakness, or even fall behind if life gets busy. When there isn’t that full-on interaction with a professor, shifting priorities seem to happen naturally.
On the flip side of that same token, though, online learning opened up entirely new avenues for the classes I took. We watched movies and took virtual tours of museums—one professor even Skyped us individually for one-on-one meetings regarding papers. While it’s a different delivery system, finding that connection with the students isn’t impossible. Interestingly, the Master of Arts in Sociology is one of Sam’s premiere ‘online-only’ degrees and it seems to be doing well enough.
At the end of the day, I really don’t know what the future holds for Sam Houston. Many departments are hopping on the online bandwagon perhaps because it may just be inevitable. If my degree had been offered online prior to my attending Sam, I can’t say I wouldn’t have taken advantage of it, but I don’t regret the irreplaceable experiences I gained by participating in classroom discussions, experiencing first-hand the words of authors I had no idea existed, or studying together in groups with friends I’ll claim for life. There are pros and cons to both, but, perhaps like it or not, the computer screen may be replacing the podium sooner than we think.