Dynarski’s article Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need the Most Help examines the contexts in which online courses are successful–and those in which they aren’t. Online courses can be effective and rewarding, just not to all students. The three most important factors in fostering an effective online education are application, flexibility, and community.
Our transition to online learning over the spring was unexpected, so our struggle was understandable. One thing I found successful was when projects were turned to students to decide what they wanted to do further research on. I often find myself unmotivated when content isn’t relevant, applying coursework to my own interests makes learning more exciting. While learning new things during a crazy time can be a good distraction, it can also lead to more stress in students’ personal lives. Flexibility in coursework and applying learning to the present day encourages student engagement. Overall, I found that community was one of the biggest missing pieces during our transition to online school.
This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the Outer Coast Summer Seminar which took place over Zoom. At first, I was skeptical about how such an immersive program could be effective virtually and even pondered withdrawing from the program. However, the Summer Seminar ended up being one of the best educational experiences I’ve ever had, it completely changed my views on online learning. Part of what made the experience so fulfilling was the community we created, although hundreds of miles apart in six different states. This can be attributed to the common interests we shared and our appetite for learning, and the commitment we had to each other. Outside of class the Student Body hosted community nights where we told stories, held poetry workshops, played games, had sometimes awkward (yet enjoyable) breakout room conversations. Knowing my professors, fellow students, and advisors on a personal level allowed me to have fun and dig deeper during class. Looking back, I recognize how Outer Coasts powered me through a rough time and made me a stronger person. I never anticipated that connecting with people over Zoom could be such a powerful experience. The 2020 Outer Coasts Summer Seminar is a testament to the idea that self-motivated individuals can have highly rewarding educational experiences online and don’t need to just “rough it out”.