February 27

Online vs Face-to-Face Learning Formats: A Personal Reflection

I got my first degrees in the United States more than twenty years ago, a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Japanese Studies from Wellesley College in 1993 and a Masters of Education in Elementary Education from Boston University in 1996. Some skills are transferable to my current studies but there are vast differences that will take getting used to.

Academic reading, research and writing skills are coming back to me, with a bit of help brushing up from the ALLaN team and other resources. The biggest changes to cope with are the differences borne of the online mode of study. In my former courses, I was a 100% faithful lecture, seminar and section attendee. I may not always have done all of the readings, but boy! did I participate in discussions and listen avidly and attentively to what my professors shared. That face-to-face interaction with course material was my primary learning environment. I am currently struggling with the digital replacements for that atmosphere and interaction.

I am lucky to have gathered together with a small band of classmates to form a study and support group via Facebook and Facebook Messenger. That has been a critical help when starting to nut out the requirements of assessment tasks or navigate the technicalities of blog setup and forum access. With a bit of luck and a small investment of time and transportation money, I should be able to meet one of the gang in Sydney later this week, score! While it does not quite replicate the camaraderie of late night dorm-room chats or trading war stories about ongoing teaching practica while trying to finish off readings before the professor entered the classroom – it is more than satisfactory and I feel real connections forming.

The area that I feel suffers the most by removal to the virtual plane is the classroom discussion. I appreciate the care that has gone into the crafting of the Discussion Forum platform, but I feel it is likely to stall discussion more than encourage it. In the classroom, when speaking, you can refer to readings without having to reference them. This lets you engage with the ideas in a more spontaneous and organic fashion. The synergy of bouncing ideas back and forth between discussants and seeing the idea develop and change before your eyes (or ears) falls flat when you need to pore over your APA Style Guide every time you want to incorporate something you have read. It turns a two minute response into a ten minute or more drafting exercise. Great practice for assessment writing, but rather antithetical to spontaneous exchange of thoughts. But here I am belly-aching as I survey the lay of the land from the vast experiential pinnacle of my second official day of classes. Perhaps the time spent drafting and crafting thoughts will refine them and hone my arguments in a way that ad-libbing off-the-cuff in class could not accomplish. Perhaps the practice of drafting discussion responses and blog posts with resource references will transform me into an APA 6th edition referencing wizard – whipping out accurately referenced sources faster than Homer Simpson can polish off a dozen of Springfield’s finest donuts. Only time will tell.