The strange nature of online communication can cut both ways, as Meeks points out. For all their easy access, chat rooms are not the same as casual classroom conversation: "Resist the temptation to hammer off a response and press 'submit,' " he warns. "In a normal classroom, your thoughts and responses are given on the fly, and your words are not kept as a record. In an online class, what you write is kept online for your classmates for the entire quarter or semester. Thus, something you write on the first week can be returned to the 10th week."
For every drawback, however, online learning has a benefit. For starters, there's that amazing around-the-world connection. "The technology supporting online courses is based on the idea that people should collaborate as part of their learning," says Olson. That means lots of discussions and group projects, which can lighten difficult course loads. Plus, as Leavitt points out, online classes "can be even more intimate than a regular class, because online people seem more willing to open up."
And, of course, with online classes there is always that wonderful option of posting whenever and wherever, for as long as your class lasts. "The best part of an online class is you can log on every day, if you like, and see what others are posting. [The teachers] don't care if you're in pajamas or log in at 3 am. It doesn't matter if you're traveling and log on at the airport between planes," says Meeks. "If you're obsessive, as I can be, this kind of class is perfect."
Massachusetts Colleges Online Consortium: mco.mass.edu
University of Massachusetts Online: umassonline.net
Middlesex Interactive: middlesex.mass.edu/online
Bunker Hill Community College: bhcc.mass.edu/inside/240
UCLA Extension: uclaextension.edu
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