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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Education Blackout

The recent Internet blackout in Egypt has left many wondering: “What if that were to happen in the US?” Besides the obvious ramifications of losing the Internet, such as mass riots due to not being able to log onto Facebook to check Farmville accounts, or not being able to tweet what you ate for lunch on Twitter, the biggest effect might very well be on education.

As an educator, student, or parent of a student, just think about how often you get online. Much of modern learning, in the classroom or outside, comes from online sources. In fact, I admittedly don’t watch television news, but I do check the news online everyday. Obviously if there was an Internet blackout I would be forced to adapt to getting my news in different ways, but what about education in universities? Even focusing just on this sector, so much of it is now reliant upon the Internet for teaching, grade reporting, homework, help, and even obtaining degrees. And while yes, we would be able to adapt to this, I believe it would be a very hard transition, especially in a few areas.


Here are some areas I think would be the hardest to transition out of:


Online Degrees

One area of higher education that would be affected the most would be online degree programs - they would absolutely cease to exist. Popular with non-traditional students, such as adults who hold a full-time job already, online degree programs are the most convenient and economical form of education for many. If these programs ceased to exist, many people might not even bother getting their degree or furthering their education.

Not only do students benefit from online degree programs, but universities do too. These programs provide a great amount of money for universities, especially with funding in education being so low.


Email

As any college student would tell you, whether 20 years old or 45, the best, most convenient form of communication with a teacher is through email. Far less intimidating than asking a question in class, much faster than waiting for the next class, and way more beneficial in the long run, email has almost replaced traditional office hours. Although it is most effective to talk to a teacher in person than by email, email provides something a student can refer back to when asking a question. It’s also something teachers can benefit from. How do you easily reach 10 students in a class - call them? Well what about 700? Without email, many students would be afraid to ask questions, couldn’t quickly make up work missed in a class, and possibly miss out on information a teacher was willing to share outside the classroom.

Virtual Learning Environments (Blackboard)

Any teacher I had from high school on loved well-known virtual learning environments like Blackboard. Yet another great place to reach many students at once with information through tools like announcements, these sites allow interactive learning between students and teachers. Things like safe-assign, grade reporting, announcements, blogs, and even pertinent class information can be found in one place online, conveniently. With so many students having grown up with Blackboard and sites like it, transitioning away from it to a less interactive way of learning might very well hinder some students.

Homework

Online homework is a go-to for many classes. Many teachers use online homework tools that are associated with the textbook for the class. Pearson, for example, has many “labs” that connect with their textbooks, giving helpful tips, homework problems, and study guides. Online homework can also help with students who like to work ahead - they aren’t forced to learn at the speed of the rest of the class. These come in really handy, especially with language classes. A student is capable of seeing and hearing lessons even outside of the classroom.

Not only would online homework be affected without the Internet, but traditional homework would be as well. The quickest way of learning about anything is a quick search on the Internet. Students have quickly learned what are acceptable sources and use them for research. While there are encyclopedias, dictionaries, and well written books on topics, updating and using those takes lots of time. Students can learn more when they are researching with faster means - and most of the resources I mentioned are available for search online.


I know I haven’t even touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to education online, so as educators, students, and parents of students - what would you miss most in education during an Internet blackout?

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