Online Schooling: the Trends, Controversies, and Scams People Are Talking About
Education is a hot topic in today's media. Oprah Winfrey is famous for saying that “education is freedom,” while rappers like Common, NBA teams like the Chicago Bulls, and our President Barack Obama all place a huge emphasis on the importance of education for the country's youth. As the connection between education and life success is increasingly recognized, online schooling is a bigger topic than ever before.
As it has become more popular, the media has started covering the good, the bad, and the ugly of online education. The following are some interesting tidbits people are discussing currently.
THE GROWING POPULARITY OF ONLINE SCHOOLING
According to a recent report by the Sloan Consortium, more than 3.9 million students took at least one higher education class online in fall 2007. This was a 12-percent increase over the previous year. Also, the growth rate for online enrollments is approximately 12.9 percent, compared to 1.2 percent growth for the general student population in higher education. Overall, the number of students taking classes online has more than doubled in the span of five years.
DIPLOMA MILLS AND THE PROBLEM OF REPUTATION
Along with the explosion of online colleges and universities has come the advent of fake schools online. While many legitimate programs exist on the Internet that are highly viable and well reputed, there are an increasing number of websites that function as “diploma mills,” peddling fake degrees to students. These are diplomas that can be earned quickly for very little money, and do not hold up on the job market because they are illegitimate.
As more people fall into this trap and try to seek jobs with these phony diplomas, employers and other schools are increasingly questioning the validity and reputation of any online degree, whether reputable or not. This means that potential students have to research the reputation of any school very carefully before enrolling in a program.
SCIENCE LABORATORY COURSES TAKEN OVER THE INTERNET
For students interested in marine biology whose school does not offer this class, or for those who want to observe a pig dissection in more detail than from the back of a classroom, the surge in science laboratory courses online is a popular option. With simulated labs and incredible technology, online students in vocational, higher education, home school, or GED programs can take advantage of many of the benefits of a real-life laboratory over the Internet.
Skeptics think, however, that mixing chemicals in virtual beakers or exploring virtual tide pools is not the same as a real-life laboratory experiment or field trip, and that students should not be able to earn course credit for such simulated lab classes.
CLASSROOM DEBATES SIMILAR IN ONLINE AND TRADITIONAL CLASSROOMS?
Detractors from online schools argue that the critical factor missing from Internet-based learning programs is the interpersonal interaction found in face-to-face discussion and debate in the classroom. Internet technology professionals, however, claim that there is little to no difference between the possibilities for debate in a virtual versus a real-life classroom setting. With the invention of video conferencing, simulated demonstrations, screencasting, and synchronous communication, online classes can emulate traditional classrooms better than ever before.
DIFFICULTY OF CONTROLLING CHEATING IN ONLINE EXAMS
The likelihood of students cheating on online assessments for distance-learning programs is much higher than in exams at traditional classroom-based schools. On a practical level, it is simply easier to cheat when no one can control who or what the test-taker brings to the exam, which raises questions about the long-term viability of educational programs based online.
The major issues regarding cheating during online tests include: obtaining test answers before an assessment begins, using hacker software to obtain passwords to databases with exam answers, referring to unauthorized materials during a test, unfairly retaking tests, and hiring other people as “stand-ins” to take exams. As with the issue of diploma mills, such problems work to compromise the credibility of online degrees in general.
ECONOMIC DOWNTOWN CAUSES SURGE IN ONLINE ENROLLMENTS
Rising unemployment rates in the current economic downtown are prompting more and more people to head back to school, and increasingly, to enroll in courses online. Obtaining a higher degree and more training makes you more desirable on the job market, and qualifies you for more positions. Because many of those who wish to study are already working, online courses are desirable because they can be easily tailored to a working adult's schedule. It has even been reported that higher fuel costs are driving more people to take classes online, to avoid having to drive a car to a real-life campus to take classes.
FUNDING FOR ONLINE HOME SCHOOL PROGRAMS
Controversy exists over whether the state, local government, or individual families should pay for online home school programs. Some argue that it is a family's choice to home school their children, and that it is thus their responsibility to fund their education. On the other hand, many believe that these students should have access to courses offered through public online virtual schools just like public school students, and that restricting home school students' access to these programs is inappropriate. Another contingent worries about home school students draining resources from students in traditional schools. Who pays for these programs will have a significant impact on the cost and nature of public school systems in the future.
Cable News Network (CNN)
The CNA Corporation, Appalachian Technology in Education Consortium
CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
National Basketball Association
The New York Times Online
Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration
United Press International
U.S. Department of Education
The Technology Source Archives at the University of North Carolina