The Trouble with Online Education

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Online Education

In modern days, due to a high level of technological progress, people have plenty of opportunities to study and receive new information via the web. The availability of personal devices and Internet access leads to the increasing popularity of online education. Regardless of age, income level, and place of residence, students can take online courses created by universities all over the world. In spite of the popularity of such a system, many specialists criticize online studies and the belief that it is an efficient way of getting a qualified education. One of the examples of such criticism is found in the article written by Mark Edmundson, called “The Trouble with Online Education.”

“The Trouble with Online Education” was published in The New York Times in July 2012. Mark Edmundson is a professor of English at the University of Virginia and the author of the book titled “Why Read?” Mark Edmundson adduces arguments against online education in his article. He focuses on the importance of the dialogue between the teacher and the audience, which is not possible in an online course. The author puts emphasis on the personal approach of the teacher to each class which depends on the level of knowledge of the students and their readiness to receive information. According to the author, the mutual learning of both students and teachers happens only during face-to-face classes.

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On the other hand, many points of view oppose that of Mark Edmundson. For example, the publication by Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman “Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006” shows that the majority of teachers define online studies as an efficient tool of education. According to the authors, the first national study in this series found that a majority of Chief Academic Officers rated the learning outcomes for online education “as good as or better” than those for face-to-face instruction. The following year’s report displayed similar results. By an increasing margin, most Chief Academic Officers believe that the quality of online instruction is equal to or superior to that of face-to-face learning (Elaine &Seaman, 2006).

The other example of the publication that adduces pro arguments concerning online education is “7 Benefits of Online Learning” by Kara Murphy. This article was published in American InterContinental University Blog in August 2014. The author refutes the belief of Mark Edmundson in regard to the impossibility of the efficient dialogue between the teacher and the students or between classmates within the online course. Kara Murphy lists the advantages of online studies, such as learning from a diverse group of instructors and students and receiving support whenever it is needed. Moreover, the author mentions the opportunity to obtain information while having the lessons structured in a way that is most convenient to the students. This thought is opposite to the argument of Mark Edmundson about the personal approach being possible only in face-to-face classes. Some online schools offer course content in different formats, so the students could learn in the way they are most comfortable with, whether it involves reading, watching, listening, or interacting (Murphy, 2014).

The article by Mark Edmundson also mentions the cooperation that is difficult to achieve in online forms of education. The author underlines the importance of face-to-face dialogue and collaboration between teachers and students. Undoubtedly, this part of classical education is important, as well as a personal approach to each student. On the other hand, the dialogue is possible in the online studies, too. Students from all over the world have an opportunity to share their thoughts and different points of view online. Instructors from universities and colleges from any country and city can share their experience with a wider audience. It is not possible in a classical form of education. Mark Edmundson uses emotional phrases and subjective beliefs while describing his arguments against online education — therefore, the article can be defined as a personal point of view.

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On the other hand, the aforementioned article is created on the basis of the real experience of a teacher, so it cannot be ignored. Mark Edmundson is a University Professor who specializes in the 19th-century American poetry, 19th-century British poetry, and romanticism. He got his Ph.D. degree in Yale and published more than 10 books and more than 20 essays. Education is one of the main themes of Mark Edmundson’s works. Thus, the background of the author shows that he is sufficiently qualified to evaluate the online studies as a tool of education.

Mark Edmundson chose the informal style of narration, which shows that his target audience is mostly students, not colleagues. The author is rather emotional and describes his personal point of view. He provides neither statistical information nor conclusions of any surveys or experiments. Mark Edmundson asks plenty of questions in his work, and many of them are rhetorical. The article is full of figurative expressions — for example, the author compares a class to a jazz composition, or a lecturer to a gifted actor. The author presents parts of private dialogues with friends and colleagues as examples and refers to philosophers like Socrates. He uses such terms as a “sixth sense” that makes the article informal, meaning that it can be characterized as belles-lettres rather than scholarly literature. Such approach makes the publication easier for reading, but it does not make it more convincing.

Mark Edmundson mostly appeals to pathos by using quotations, emotional expressions, rhetorical questions, artistic effects, comparison, and other literature devices that make the article more picturesque. For example, he uses the following epigraph before presenting the main text: “AH, you’re a professor. You must learn so much from your students.” Quotations from private dialogues make the narration more informal and vivid. Rhetorical questions such as “do people think that lawyers learn a lot about the law from their clients?” engage the reader emotionally. The question that can obviously be answered positively leads the reader to compliance in regard to the point of view described in the text. This approach is very similar to the method of three ‘Yes’ or a modern modification of Socrates’ method of convincing people. Consequently, it is rather interesting that the author mentions Socrates in his work. Additionally, Mark Edmundson uses artistic comparison by comparing the lecturer to an actor improvising on stage and by saying, “Every memorable class is a bit like a jazz composition. There is the basic melody that you work with” (Edmundson, 2012). All these methods appeal to emotions and imagination of the reader.

The author also uses logical reasoning. For example, he appeals to logos while describing his approach to Shakespeare course, saying that he works permanently in order to understand his students and their abilities to develop. This knowledge helps the teacher to adjust the program accordingly. “Can they grasp the contours of Shakespeare’s plots? If not, it’s worth adding a well-made film version of the next play to the syllabus” (Edmundson, 2012).

The author uses his own experience of developing lectures as an evidence of the argument about the personal approach. It helps the reader understand the importance of the dialogue between the teacher and the students, as well as the significance of feedback in the educational process. The other evidence is an evaluation of the particular online course — however, it seems personal and not objective enough. “The instructor was hyper-intelligent, learned and splendidly articulate. But the course wasn’t great and could never have been” (Edmundson, 2012). Another example of vague evidence is some of the quotations taken from the dialogue with Mark Edmundson’s friend.

The article includes the method of generalization. For example, the author tries to evaluate all courses together by saying, “Online education is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It tends to be a monologue and not a real dialogue” (Edmundson, 2012). In this statement, the author does not take into account that online courses can include video calls, online chats, and e-mails.

Mark Edmundson has not included any counter arguments that could help him make the evaluation of online education more multi-layered, wholesome, and convincing. The usage of the only point of view makes the research limited and not objective. It would have been better if the author had compared face-to-face and online communication between the lecturer and the students by showing all advantages and disadvantages of classical and online studies.

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There are no doubts that the real conversation and face-to-face contact give more basis to personal approach than an online course. On the other hand, it is wrong to assert that online studies do not give an opportunity for feedback and adjustment of the course. For example, many courses include online chats that connect students and teachers and give them the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas. Many online courses collect information about students’ background, knowledge, and other characteristics before launching the studies. These data help to make appropriate corrections in the program. Mark Edmundson mentions mutual learning, meaning that not only the teachers can educate the students, but that they can learn a lot from them, too. While this opinion has some basis in reality, it does not mean that online education limits the access to similar opportunities for all its participants.

In conclusion, it can be stated that Mark Edmundson raises an important topic in his work. He tries to show the drawbacks and limits of online education and succeeds in attracting the attention of the readers. His article engages the reader emotionally and it does not leave anyone indifferent. However, the text is full of personal opinions and artistic effects that make the article belles-lettres rather than a part of scholar literature. Still, the publication is catchy and it makes the reader engage in critical thinking in regard to the topic of education.

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