Online Education For Dummies 19

Ten Myths about Online Education

In This Chapter ▶ Exposing the common myths of online education ▶ Revealing the truth about learning online Despite the growing popularity of online courses, a number of myths related to online learning persist. People don’t know what to make of studying and learning online. In this chapter, we bust ten of the most common myths about online education.
Online Education Is Anytime/Anywhere Asynchronous courses have no set meeting times, and you should be able to complete your assignments whenever it’s convenient for you. In theory, as long as you have a decent Internet connection, you can access course materials and submit assignments at any time.
That said, students sometimes fall into a trap with this statement because they fail to recognize that even an asynchronous course maintains a schedule. Your instructor expects you to turn in work by the stated deadlines. For example, you may be required to respond to a question on Wednesday, and then read and respond to posts submitted by your peers by Sunday. Though you can decide what time of day to submit your posts, if you don’t follow the class schedule, you’ll probably find yourself losing ground in the grading scheme.
The other area in which this statement becomes problematic is the “anywhere” part. In theory, you should be able to travel and do your work as long as you have a decent Internet connection. However, our experience is that online education and vacation do not mix! If you must take a two-week vacation in the midst of an eight-week course, consider rescheduling one or the other. Even if your hotel has free Internet, do you really want to stop playing on the beach to come inside and do homework? The reality is that you probably won’t.

Online courses come in two flavors: synchronous and asynchronous. In a synchronous (real-time) course, you meet at a prescribed time using Web conferencing software. In an asynchronous course, you don’t have a set time to meet, but you do have deadlines. Make sure you know what kind of course you’re taking before you run into problems; see Chapters 2 and 4 for more about the distinction between synchronous and asynchronous classes.
Only Kids Take Online Courses Check the statistics for some of the larger online programs, and you’ll find the average online learner is middle-aged. The convenience of studying while balancing work and family attracts slightly older students to online courses. Younger, traditional-age college students are also online, but they’re more likely to be blending Web-based and traditional courses at a land-based college.
The notion that young kids know how to use computers to their advantage and slightly older students do not is an erroneous assumption. Don’t overlook the computer skills of working professionals. Few of us get through our workday without e-mail, shared projects, and collaboration. These are the same skills needed in online education! Chapter 2 describes groups of all ages who can benefit from online courses.
An Online Course Is a Great Way to Learn How to Use Your Computer This statement may be true if you’re enrolled in a personal development course on using a computer. However, for the kinds of courses that we discuss in this book, taking an online course to learn how to use your computer is a very bad idea. People who do this spend so much time focusing on learning to use their computer that they waste money by not learning anything about the content area of the course. Why pay $300 for a geology course and not learn about rocks?
Additionally, the instructor may not have the time or patience to walk you through every little course-related task. Even if you have 24/7 technical support, their job is to help you with software related to your course, not tell you how to use your computer.
In fairness to the other students and your instructor, learn how to use your computer well before you enroll in an online course. Chapter 3 describes the technology and technological skills you need to succeed.

Contact your local two-year college or continuing education department and see what kinds of basic computer courses they offer. Chances are very good that they have an introductory course that would be perfect for you!
You Must Be a Computer Geek to Take an Online Course You do need to understand the basics of how your computer works and how to find files (see the preceding section), but you don’t need to be a full-fledged geek to survive in an online course! Here is a short list of skills that you should have before you enroll. You should be able to
✓ Turn on your computer and start a Web browser (the software that connects to the Internet). ✓ Navigate the Web including opening links in new tabs or windows. ✓ Create a folder on your hard drive to store course-related information and know how to locate that information for later access. ✓ Open and answer e-mail with and without attachments. ✓ Download and install applications and application plug-ins.
Flip to Chapter 3 for more details on basic skills you need for online courses.
Online Education Is Easier Than Traditional Education Some people assume that online education is easier than traditional education, but we don’t know what “easier” means. To some people, easier means less work, but guess what? In an accredited educational program, the amount of work expected of a student is the same whether the course is delivered in a traditional classroom or online.
Here’s an example: If you attend a course offered once a week in a regular classroom, the instructor may lecture or guide activities for three hours and expect you to work on your own completing readings or assignments for another six hours, resulting in a total of nine hours of active involvement in learning. The same course transferred online may deliver the lecture or activities by way of technology tools, but the assignments and the outcomes are the same. And, most importantly, you’re expected to be engaged for approximately nine hours total.

Many online programs are accelerated, which has the potential of doubling your workload per course. For example, an on-campus course might take 16 weeks, whereas online, the same course covering the same amount of material may be only 8 to 12 weeks. We can’t see how that’s any easier. (Chapter 4 has more details on accelerated courses and programs.)
We will allow, however, that online education can be much more convenient in that you can do the work when it suits your lifestyle and schedule as long as you still meet required deadlines set forth by the instructor. (We explain this in the earlier section “Online Learning Is Anytime/Anywhere.”)
Online Education Is Lower in Quality Than Traditional Education In the early days of online education, some courses were little more than technology-enhanced correspondence courses with hardly any accountability as to how well the students learned. We’ve come a long way since then, and today’s online courses offer the same standards and outcomes as traditional courses. Not only does research fail to reveal a statistically significant difference between online and traditional delivery methods, but it also fails to show that online courses are of lower quality. In fact, reputable institutions routinely review their courses using accepted standards of quality. Online programs are also beginning to participate in separate accreditation processes from agencies such as the United States Distance Learning Association.
Look for an accredited program or institution. Chapter 5 reviews how to determine accreditation.
Online Education Is Always Independent While you may do a considerable amount of work independently, such as reading or writing assignments, most online courses require students to interact with each other in a manner that is far from independent. Following are two examples:
✓ Discussion forums: In discussion forums, students read one another’s submissions and comment on or reply to them. This becomes a rich exchange of ideas and extends everyone’s understanding of the concepts. This manner of learning is hardly independent! In fact, it can’t happen without participation from multiple voices, including the instructor’s. (We cover discussions in Chapters 8 and 14.)

✓ Group projects: Group projects are carried out online, too. Often students collaborate with peers to create a final product. These situations may require even more time and commitment specific to communicating with others than traditional classroom projects. (Flip to Chapter 12 for more information on group work.)
Taken directly from how people work in the twenty-first century (across distances and with others), teamwork rather than independence seems to rule in online courses.
Online Education Is Less Personal Than Traditional Education An amusing video on the Internet shows a professor refusing to accept a late exam from a student. The student asks, “Do you know who I am?” to which the professor replies that he doesn’t. The student jams his paper into the middle of the stack of exams, smirks, and walks away. That’s impersonal!
You can’t hide in an online course. Your instructor will get to know you and your ideas possibly better than he would have had you sat in a traditional classroom and said nothing. This is because the majority of online classes require participation; you can’t log in and lurk and not do the work. In fact, if you try to approach your course that way, at the very least you’re going to have a few intimate conversations with your instructor!
There’s another explanation as to why online education is not impersonal. Have you ever noticed that some people feel free to disclose information about themselves to strangers? Some instructors report similar occurrences with online students, indicating that students are freer to share insights and personal details that support course concepts than they would if they had to face a classroom full of live people.
You Need a Webcam for an Online Class No one needs to see you sitting in your pajamas at the computer. While Webcams have real advantages for communication, they’re rarely required in online courses. For starters, you only use a Webcam if you have a synchronous component that accommodates video; for example, an office hour in a Web-conferencing tool. Even then, because Webcams require greater bandwidth, instructors may ask you to turn them off. However, it doesn’t hurt to go ahead and purchase a headset with a microphone for those occasional synchronous sessions.

Most of the communication in an online course occurs on the discussion boards or via e-mail. These are not communication tools that require a realtime connection or video. If classmates are curious about what you look like, a photo works just as well. Chapter 10 introduces the basics of online communication methods.
Everyone Cheats Online There is no evidence of greater cheating online than in a traditional classroom. Unfortunately, there’s too much cheating everywhere! However, smart online instructors now design their courses to minimize the possibility of cheating and use tools to help them detect plagiarism. Cheating online simply doesn’t pay because the technology is on the instructor’s side. For example:
✓ Instructors ask for major projects to be submitted in pieces, showing prior drafts and revisions. Or, they ask for projects that are based on personal or professional circumstances knowing that no one else could possibly write about your life the way you can. ✓ Some institutions use very sophisticated software that checks written submissions for plagiarism. ✓ Finally, some instructors actually have one-on-one conversations with students where they ask questions to see whether students are able to properly articulate course materials.
A working definition of plagiarism is taking someone else’s ideas and presenting them as your own without giving proper citation. In Chapter 13 we give you lots of ideas for how to avoid plagiarism, along with excellent Web links so you can find out more about how to write correctly.

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