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Online classes don’t compare when it comes to quality learning

The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.

Over the next few weeks, Miami students will log onto BannerWeb to create their schedules for the spring semester.

Aside from traditional classes, there are a variety of alternatives to choose from: online/distance learning, in which students complete assignments individually at their own pace; interactive video distance learning, which requires students to tune in at a certain time for class content; or hybrid classes, which combine days of in-person class time with supplementary online lectures or other resources.

With these options available, the question stands - are all classes created equal?

Can sitting at home watching a lecture online while simultaneously talking on the phone, blow-drying your hair and making yourself something to eat really compare to being inside a classroom?

Does emailing your teacher to ask a question provide you the same answer as raising your hand or approaching them face-to-face after class would?

Is posting your comment in an online forum equivalent to contributing in an in-class group discussion? Does conversation flow as naturally? Are ideas exchanged in the same manner?

It is not realistic to believe that online courses can offer the same experience as being in a classroom. Over J-term especially, it is not feasible to condense material intended for a 14-week period into three weeks without compromising quality.

At Miami, traditional classes offer immeasurable opportunities for real-life applications. Whether it be an expert in a certain field dropping in to give a guest lecture, a volunteering requirement that forces students out into the Oxford community or a field trip to an off-site location to see how something is made, there are countless situations that cannot be replicated over the Internet.

Instead, students find themselves staring at their computer screens, half-heartedly scrawling notes while a video plays of their professor, poised awkwardly on their desktop, equally bored and reading from a written script.

Professors do not get to call on students in class, inviting those whose thoughts seem to be wandering back into the conversation. They can't see the imaginary light bulb glowing in a student's mind the moment they finally understand a tough concept. And nothing allows them to monitor and make sure students aren't using their phones, rifling through their notes or simply Googling answers during exams.

Students often gravitate toward alternative class styles because they are convenient - an easy way to "knock out" a requirement. But aside from teaching course content, online classes teach students to value efficiency above all else. They shift the focus from engaging with and truly absorbing new material to simply checking a box that says you've done it.

This highlights the shifting attitude toward education in general. Why devote a whole semester to a class when you can "get it over with" in just a few weeks?

While the pursuit of knowledge was once valued in and of itself, today's society looks at a college degree as another commodity. It matters less what you learned in class, the deep thoughts you had, the questions you wondered about. All that matters is getting a diploma to prove you did your time.

Online classes do have their virtues, and they have their time, place and circumstance.

If you have two classes you need to take but they are scheduled at the same time, an online offering would solve the problem. For those trying to balance a summer internship while accumulating additional credits, distance learning would be ideal. Students could work a typical 9:00 to 5:00 day, then come home and devote time to their studies. A traditional classroom does not offer the freedom to work at your own pace, which many students regard as a perk of online courses.

And yes, if your options are between a 200-person lecture at 8:30 a.m. that you know is likely to serve as a glorified naptime, taking an online class would allow you the flexibility to tune in later in the day when you have more energy to pay attention.

For students with genuine interest in a subject and the ability to hold themselves accountable, online courses can be a great option.

But online classes are not for everyone, nor should every class be available online. They hinder the learning experience, eliminate the possibility for quality interactions with peers and prevent the development of meaningful relationships with professors.

While online classes boast the convenience of an easy way to add credits to an otherwise jam-packed schedule, they ultimately inconvenience students by robbing them of the superior learning experience that a traditional classroom offers.