I feel the need to preface this… views expressed within are my thoughts, from my experience with on-line education. I have not tried all of the available options, and can only offer my viewpoint from the ones I have.
On-Line education, great in theory, but in practice, it’s a hot mess.
Let me explain. I’ve been attending Everest University on and off since 2010. During my initial enrollment I was slated to graduate in 2 years with an Associates Degree in Computer Science, Specializing in Information Technology. The first attempt didn’t go so well. After the newness of it all wore off, the boredom and procrastination set in. Add into that a major illness in the family, and a drop-out was inevitable. Once things settled down I re-entered, only after first getting a generic “Thanks for applying, but you do not meet our minimum qualifications” letter from the county IT department. I went back in with a renewed fervor, but again after the first set of classes, fell into the same mistake. Do the minimum to be counted as “in attendance” and wait till the last week to finish anything else. Then after another round of classes drop-out again. I did this a few times, 4 in total. After leaving my last job (Local ISP, multiple hats) I vowed to go back in and finish… for real this time. That’s when I found out that I could no longer do a 2 year degree. I had “timed out” for the IT specialization. I could however transfer all of my credits to the Programming/Software Development specialization. I had taken the C++ class offered by my high school, but that was ages ago. My last foray into programming was a Windows batch file that had a command line interface, simple menu, and simply changed the IP address on the selected network adapter from a list of presets (almost two thousand lines of code, but with how much we’d have to change IP addresses based on our location in the system, it was worth it). I begrudgingly accepted their offer, and started again. I now (as of this writing) have 9 months left of that “4” year program. It wasn’t until recently that programming language classes finally entered into my itinerary. I did find out, I love to code. I could sit at a computer all day, and bang out line after line. It’s intoxicating, challenging, and exactly what I was looking for. This college experience though… was not.
Despite being entirely on-line, it wasn’t until a few months ago that the books became on-line too. Now don’t get me wrong… most of the books I enjoy having, mostly just so that my bookshelf in my den isn’t only Star Trek and other sci-fi books; as an on-line school though, the books should have always been available electronically.
There’s very little (if any) communication with your instructor. Sure you can e-mail them, or post questions to them on the forum (“discussion” page). It’s not “real” though. I can remember every teacher from High School, all the way back to Kindergarten, not only their names, but their faces, snippets of conversation, and stories. On a regular basis I see a healthy portion of my teachers too. Growing up and living in the same small town aids that appreciably. I enjoyed classes where the teacher would relate subject material to real life. Two of my favorite teachers did this with such flourish and style that I actually enjoyed their classes. English and History of all things. I know one of you may read this, since you’ve read some of my other work. The lovely Mrs. Channell was my favorite English teacher, her stories would brighten even the dreariest of classroom moods. And who in the valley could think of History without thinking about Sir Mark High, he brought the middle ages alive in his classroom, and was a huge Star Trek fan to boot. I’m getting just slightly off topic, but off topic is what real world teaching is about. Circling back from a topic that’s just outside the coursework, and connecting with it in a way that brings the big picture into view. Without this, it just feels like a substitute who’s handing out book assignments. I miss the didactic teaching style, seeing a teacher up in front of a white-board, talking about the material, making that personal connection. It would be so simple too, to just record a video, so at least that would feel more right. Lynda and Udemy at least have this going for them.
Circling back to the assignments; they really are just book assignments. Read chapters 1-5 and do project 8A, B and D from chapter 5. There’s the “Discussion” post that does pose a question (or two) based on your reading assignments. This “Discussion” is how you’re counted as absent or present for the week. A single post marks you as present, 3 are required (each on a separate day, the first being on or before Wednesday of that week), with one being a main response to the question in the top of the post. It’s so silly. It’s basically a web forum. That’s it. There’s never a lot of chatter, and no intra-personal interaction. Most of what’s on there is simply “Great Post. I agree that <insert text from above> is important because <pull something out of your rear here>.” It’s hard to interact with classmates, because they just feel like poorly coded bots most of the time. I don’t know if anyone’s seen the InspiroBot fails, they’re worth a Google search (and one is up top of this post). Imagine that, in a classroom.
With VR around the corner, I wonder if any of the on-line schools will implement it as a possibility. If done right, it could revolutionize the way we educate, and are educated. Even in a physical classroom, VR has massive potential to disrupt the current teaching methods. When applied to an on-line classroom it just makes all of the above problems potentially disappear. Even with the technology we have today, right now, the problems in on-line learning could be solved, just if people took a little time, and effort. There’s the problem though, effort. Who wants to put effort into things? With the amount of money I’ve spent in on-line school, I would have expected more of an effort from the institution.
I think I’ve learned more about Software Design and coding in particular from finding a need (even if it’s silly and small) in my life and designing some code to solve it. Or even watching YouTube videos, taking a free class on Udemy, or even trying out Lynda. I’m working on my first bit of code that I’ll actually release to the public now, I’m hoping to have it done in a few weeks. This is what I want to do with my life. Write code, and blog a bit. I just wish I could cut out the middle-man of college and fast forward to where I start complaining about “Now I have a degree, but no one will hire me without experience”. Oh… what a cruel mistress job searching can be, no matter what career field you’re looking for.
I guess I really can’t say much more. I’ve ranted, I’ve griped and now I need to get back to that schoolwork, before it smothers me again. Happy computing!