Mar 06 2008

One of Those Degrees

The unseen benefits of taking classes online.

I recently switched from a traditional master’s degree program to an online one, and not because it was easier, despite what you might think. As a New York State teacher, my original master’s program was ultimately affording me a piece of paper to legally continue my profession. My online program, through Full Sail Real World Education in Florida, is exposing me to the next educational frontier: technology and the online interface.

You’re Going Where?

Switching from a traditional Masters in Education to a Masters in Education Media Design and Technology has become a conversation of, “You’re going where?” Tradition is heavy in higher education, so if you don’t provide a household name when filling in the blank of the school you are attending, you will encounter prejudice. Would you feel different if I told you my undergraduate work was at Indiana University? The common perception of online degrees mirrors our conventional academic culture, where we are slow to invite modern technology into the classroom.

This is exactly what we are going to explore. It is no longer news to talk about the powerful, unifying effect of today’s technology systems from globally competitive video games to seamlessly sophisticated supply-chain management. The evidence for the power of these interfaces is abundant in American households and global corporations. But too often, it is literally stopped at the door of the American classroom: no cell phones allowed, watch where you surf, and please leave your MP3 player in your locker.

But my goal here is not to rewrite your district’s policy on appropriate use of technology, but to invite you along on an authentic online learning experience. It is time to acknowledge online learning as more than the preferred method for saving time, but as a legitimate, expansive resource that challenges learners in a multimodal format.

Take Out Your Textbook, Please

Yes, we use complete literary works, not just text messages or Internet snippets. In fact, in my first class I’ve already written more research papers and suffered through the production of more APA citations than in any of the six courses I completed from my previous program. However, we are also challenged to present and apply our findings through other applications, from Microsoft’s PowerPoint to Apple’s Garage Band.

I can write a research paper, but as someone who grew up with Pac-Man, entire afternoons and evenings are dedicated to learning how to successfully manipulate iMovie. Hard work pays off, though, each time I successfully add a new resource to my teaching library. A colleague recently said to me, “Kids these days don’t want to learn.” I disagree; they just might not want to learn the way we did. The challenges I face in my online learning environment prove this to be true, because I am learning a lot more by abandoning the traditional classroom setting and entering the world of the digital native.

Commute to My Laptop

It is both terrifying and exhilarating. My first day of class wasn’t walking into a classroom and finding a seat. It was logging on to the Learning Management System and navigating WebEx software. While I can “arrive” at class unshowered and in sweats, I still need to be on time and prepared. (By the way, unshowered is not recommended for video chats.)

Our first course is Multiple Learning Theories, which is standard in almost any teaching degree. However, the more we explore how the brain likes to process information, the greater the argument for the use of video games in education. In fact, it’s a topic I’ll revisit in my next column on technology and online learning.