Online-only courses don?t give students personal education

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

Online colleges and degrees are the latest rage. Although,
let’s face it, when someone says they’re in college online, we give a little pause. All the while, our thoughts are swirling with issues of validity, employer acceptance and accreditation.

Obviously, there’s a need for some online courses, but I’ve found myself questioning the legitimacy of strictly online colleges and degrees. They offer zero in-class participation or face-to-face collaboration.

The isolation factor alone seems to be completely at odds with the ultimate goal of higher education,

which is to help you find a job where you’ll most likely work with other people.
UOnline Program Director Jay Deuel said the U’s administration had the insight to take the online craze one step at a time, and decided

to grow the online program slowly to ensure quality classes. At the time, many universities were simply putting material online and calling it an online course.

“BYU, Weber, Utah State and many others have chosen to move quickly, and that’s why they have many more courses and full degrees (online),” Deuel said. The U doesn’t have full degrees available online, but it does grow about 20 percent a year in online courses. The majority of online students are on-campus students.

Most online students with full-time jobs, small children or disabilities
appreciate the flexibility of computer learning. Sometimes online courses are the only options that fit into students’ schedules, but students’ learning capacities increase with physical interaction and discussion with other students and instructors. The synergy developed

through in-class discussions and lectures cannot be computer-generated.
Ironically, the biggest oxymoron to be found in online education is the physical education class. Days of grudgingly pounding out laps while the gym teacher screams for you to “get moving” have been replaced with virtual exercise. For example, BYU offers a plethora of online P.E. options including bowling, jogging, tennis, weight training and swimming.
These classes rely on a student’s promise to do the activities, unsupervised,
after learning how to do them on a computer. The mystery is how students learn about teamwork,improve their interpersonal skills and gain motivation. P.E. used to be an opportunity for students to acquire all of these experiences through monitored physical participation in a variety of sports, no matter if they were clumsy, shy, or overweight or even if they didn’t particularly want to participate.

The U offers only two such classes: Resistance Training ESS 4387 and Fitness for Life ESSF 1098.

According to the U’s director of exercise sports science fitness, Shannon Mulder, today’s definition of physical education emphasizes healthy living and personal fitness instruction, which is dependent on theory-based learning. The online Fitness for Life course relies on an honor system requiring students to journal exercise, whereas the classroom
version gets one day a week to actually go down to the gym and exercise with an instructor. Both classes required a nutrition journal, and for students to go to www.mypyramid.gov, fulfill all of the requirements and turn the journal in.

“To be perfectly honest, even if they are cheating and they’re not giving us the honest answers, they’re still required to go and learn and to document their activity and to think about their caloric intake versus caloric output,” Mulder said.

Basically, today’s physical education isn’t about applying the learned knowledge, only supplying it. Thankfully, the U’s exercise and sports science fitness program recognizes the value of personal human contact used in conjunction with physical education and has refrained from jumping on the online P.E. bandwagon. Of course, the UOnline program will continue to grow and generate quality theory-based courses. With any luck, the U will never have a 100 percent online degree available and will choose instead to integrate online theory with real in-classroom interaction. Also, let’s hope ESSF won’t fall prey to the “it’s an easy way to make money” trap like so many other universities. Ultimately, exercise is only exercise if you’re moving. Having a computer teach you to swim won’t stop you from drowning; you have to actually get wet to learn that.