« The myths about distance learning | Main | New ways of motivating learners »

Is online teaching a threat to schools?

April 09, 2007

Hello again,

In theory the Internet frees teachers to set up as independents and have the world at large as a market. I certainly know...

...of a couple of individuals who have set up this type of activity with great success. However, two swallows don’t make a summer and I don’t see any signs that Internet teaching is seriously threatening schools just yet.

One great advantage of the old-fashioned classroom is the opportunity for interaction with others. The negotiation of meaning is a valuable part of language learning that takes place in pair and group work. Typically a student makes an utterance and the respondent engages in the conversation either by replying directly or by asking for clarification. Thus the learners have the chance to try out the effectiveness of their communication in a controlled environment. Although virtual groups are possible, I am not sure if they have the same cohesiveness of the classroom, although perhaps if the groups meet regularly they will bond in the virtual environment.

Another drawback is lack of access for learners of a school’s resource bank. Although a virtual teacher can recommend sources of learning aids, the learner has to be sufficiently motivated to go and obtain them instead of having them on tap in the school.

I am also not sure whether there are enough teachers available who have syllabus and academic management skills to work independently. A school has an academic management structure to support the planning and execution of courses and lessons. I suppose that drawback could be overcome if teachers formed groups to exchange syllabus ideas.

On the plus side, of course, the opportunity for a learner to access a private tutor gives them an enormously flexible learning opportunity and for the teacher too there is great freedom. I feel therefore that virtual classrooms will become increasingly popular. But as for them posing a threat to the traditional school, I somehow doubt it. I suspect the virtual classroom caters for a different market sector and plays a complementary role. Of course, to be on the safe side, schools should be setting up their own virtual classrooms so as to swim with the tide.

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


  1. Lee Says:


    This topic has instigated a HUGE debate going on now in my own English department. Our state school system is unionized, so the tenured faculty like to at least participate in debates about administrative policy changes in the curriculum since it could affect how teachers' workloads might look in the near future.

    To make a long story short, it seems that more and more higher education schools are trying to incorporate "completely-online" bachelor degree programs into their list of degree possibilities. What this means for English departments, who MUST provide some of the required, core humanities/liberal arts courses for most declared majors, is that there will now HAVE to be enough online English classes offered each semester to properly service this new online sector. Up until now, our institution has only had one or two of these offerings in English since it is still in the R&D phase, really.

    The admins want the departments to provide more online classes but they don't want to hire more faculty. In fact, they don't even seem to fully understand any of the methodology involved in the delivery an online version of a class, much less the complications of actually using such a teaching instrument (training, teacher evaluation, etc., the list goes on). They know that they need the support from the English departments in order to make this happen for them but the departments, at this stage, don't seem to be convinced that this is the way to go.

    It will be interesting to see how this all pans out and if, as some skeptics believe, it leads to a replacement of the traditional, physical classroom environment. For now, it seems, many older teachers are resistant to participating in such a radical change. They are tenured, so it will take time for hiring committees to "replace" retiring faculty with incoming and newly trained faculty who are even willing to do this kind of teaching exclusively (my guess it will begin to be a requirement in the job description). From what I've heard from the few people on campus here who actually teach online classes (whether for this institution or for others, like "Phoenix"), there is actually MORE work involved for the instructor to produce and administer an online course versus a traditional one. Administration also seems to feel that online teachers could feasibly accept a lower payscale than teachers who teach in conventional course-rooms. It doesn't take a genius to deduce: less pay for teachers, less-qualified teachers that apply.

    So, there are those issues mentioned, as well. If, as some think, we do allow this to happen, are we then self-destructing or diluting the industry of quality in more ways than one? Is it really practical for student and teacher alike (or, only for the corporate entity that profits from it)?

    Finally, we must recognize that there is still a DEFINITE market of non-traditional students (mature students, etc.) who are very often not acquainted or even comfortable with new classroom technologies, like the internet, for example. I have heard over and over from such older students whom are resistant to the online aspects of contemporary courses. They have come to traditional campuses, like the one I work for, specifically to avoid seemingly "freaky" online classes taught by faceless strangers (with no visible fellow-students) offered by many of the very online institutions advertising in the banner spaces of these blogs.

    So, for the time being, it seems that the internet classroom experience is only geared to certain types of individuals in certain types of situations...a highly specialized market. I don't think the situation warrants an immediate fear from anyone who thinks this monster is about to replace us anytime soon.

    My guess is that it will simply fill the gap that traditional correspondence courses (snail-mail) have always played, as you so eloquently suggested in your last article.

    Another great topic; I hope to see what others in the field have to say.



  1. mukund Says:

    It depends on personal experiences. Every coin has two sides. Both have advantages and disadvantages. It is YOU, How you look at it? My personal opinion is very good. I love ONLINE teaching.

  1. Bob Toomey Says:

    I have a short (I hope) comment about this topic.
    Anyone who thinks classroom teaching is antiquated needs to take a college course about the history of education. The current hype is nothing more than trying to cram Spanish teaching that took place during the 1960s-70, and then of course that good old "new mathematics" that was around in the 1970s. Both were a failure. Internet learning may work for mathematic and similar course, but teaching a language via the internet seems like a joke to me. I may be wrong, but I would like someone to prove it to me (not with words alone).

    The article and the response by Lee were terrific.

    Bob Toomey in Beijing

  1. Claudine Says:

    Online teaching can be done for languages with the help of supplementary software...already often used in non-language online classes. Everyone for instance has the voice recorder in their accessories menu (if using Windows). Then there are the Instant Messages with voice and video capabiliites. Those are the cheaper lower end software. Some schools have platforms designed to show an instructor's blackboard AS THEY ARE TYPING and also come with chat, video and voice capabilites. If the student isn't concerned about putting on headphones and using a mic to communicate to an instructor, sure it can be done. Perhaps it targets a different audience, but it can be done...and already is being done with success. Just depends on the learning style of the student.


Post a Comment



Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)