This morning, Ashok and I presented our talk at the GVU Brown Bag titled “Putting Online Learning and Learning Sciences Together”. You can watch the talk in its entirety here.
In the talk, one of my main reflections is that the student body of the OMS are incredibly engaged, driven, and invested. They’ve really taken ownership over the success of the program in a way that, in my opinion, in-person students don’t. Perhaps I’m wrong about the students, but I can earnestly say interacting with them has been the most satisfying and stimulating experience of my educational career.
In the Q&A afterward, however, we received a good question: the current OMS students are a highly self-selected group. They were willing to apply and pay to join an experimental (although accredited) program. It’s not surprising that a group of students that is willing to be the “early adopters” are more engaged and driven to participate.
Over time, however, will this change? On the one hand, it is easy to see how the shine of the early adopters could fade as the program becomes more routine and respected. In my opinion, the early adopters feel (and rightfully so) that they reflect on the program as much as the program reflects on them because they’re the first cohort of students that will advertise the OMSCS’s greatness to the world. Five years from now, however, will the 10,000th student feel as much ownership of the program as the 10th student did? It’s reasonable to think they won’t, and that the students in the OMS will come to resemble in-person students over time.
On the other hand, could it be that the excellence of the OMS students is not due to their status as early adopters, but rather due to their demographics and industry experience? The OMS students are largely professionals with families, and it is reasonable that this will remain the target audience as time goes on as well given the undergraduate prerequisite for the program. This audience, with its superior industry and life experience, may be what is leading to this increased engagement and sense of ownership. These are students that are used to have responsibility and influence rather than just being pushed through a system to get a degree, and it is entirely possible that this audience will remain this invested as time goes on.
But there are other possibilities as well. Maybe the excellence of students in the program is actually a product of the medium itself. The asynchronous online interface provides some rich opportunities for students to ownership over the class. In person, for example, it’s rare for a student to pose a discussion that dominates the class period; after all, the professor typically enters the class with a lesson plan in mind that ought not to be entirely derailed by student questions. Online, proposing a discussion does not take away class time from the lessons. Thus, perhaps it’s simply the online medium that brings out the best in the students. If that’s the case, then the online environment may have a powerful opportunity to not only be a useful alternative to traditional education, but may even provide some advantages over it.