Wednesday, 24 December 2014

How to make online education social

by Robin Scott


The advent of online education has been a wonderful gift for both educators and students. It has allowed teachers to reach out to students in other parts of the globe and has allowed students to form a study group without actually being together physically. Online education is permitting students who live in a rural or isolated area to attend classes from the comfort of their own home and it has added to home school curriculums across America. However, there is one drawback to all of this innovative technology: The lack of socialization.

Most problems have a solution if the creative thinkers of the world spend time to search for it. What is the solution to this particular drawback. There are several ways that online education can become more social and more closely mimic the benefits of an in-person education.

1. Anthropomorphize the Technology

When something becomes anthropomorphic it means that an inanimate object is given human or animal characteristics. Why not make the computer more human? We are used to using our computers as a tool to simply type in information, but with the advent of decent voice technology and interactive capabilities we can start applying human characteristics to online educational materials. Students who are taking an entire class online should set up an area in their home office and view it as a virtual classroom. The use of multiple monitors can help make their educational experiences more connected. For instance, a student can have their primary laptop or monitor serve as a “person” that is used to speak to people via Skype or use chat technology such as Skype chat or Google Hangouts. The second monitor can be used as a traditional computer in order to do online research or type out research papers or notes. Some students may wish to use a third monitor or a handheld device for additional academic needs.

2. Include Real People in the Educational Environment

Students who are enrolled in online educational programs should look for classmates who are located nearby. Although driving to meet in person for anything other than a social activity is becoming less popular, the formation of an in-person study group once a week can add greatly to online education. Students can still use all of the innovative technology that they would use in their home classroom as most of it is now compact and portable.

3. Connect With People Who You Would Only Be Able to Reach Using a Machine

Many people feel that as technology improves our socialization is declining; however, there are some people that we simply wouldn’t be able to meet or collaborate with without this new technology. 20 years ago it would have been nearly impossible for a classroom full of third-graders to speak to students in another country. Today, it is fairly easy for a classroom in the US to speak to a classroom in China. The only obstacle left is dealing with different time zones. In a way, online education is making us more social or at least more varied in our socialization.

Although it doesn’t make a lot of sense to communicate with someone using technology if they happen to be sitting across the room, it makes a ton of sense for a student in Sweden to speak to a student in Italy and teach each other Swedish and Italian.

In Short

If online education is starting to feel flat and impersonal, it’s important for students and teachers to communicate what’s working and what’s not. Any grand innovation is fluid; meaning that it is a work in progress, and the more feedback the creators of this technology receive the more it can be improved. Also, users of this technology who come up with ways of making online education more social should feel free to share them with the world so that everyone can benefit.

Robyn Scott is a private tutor with TutorNerds LLC in Irvine, CA. She has a BA from the University of California, Irvine and a MA from the University of Southampton, UK.

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