A Classroom of One: How Online Learning is Changing Our Schools and Colleges
reviewed by David Stoloff - 2004
Title: A Classroom of One: How Online Learning is Changing Our Schools and Colleges
Author(s): Gene Maeroff
Publisher: Palgrave MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 1403960852 , Pages: 306, Year: 2003
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Gene Maeroff has provided the education community with a service through his status report on online learning and teaching in A Classroom of One: How Online Learning is Changing Our Schools and Colleges.
Recognizing the difficulties in chronicling the dynamic force of online learning, he notes that most of the book is written in the past tense, and the challenge of writing was like taking “a snapshot of a cyclone” (page xi). Maeroff suspects that ultimately online courses “will work best and prove most attractive when directed at mature adult learners” (page xii).
The text begins with a global perspective on online learning for both K through 12 education and higher education. Chapter 2 revisits the history of distance learning and concerns about content, design, and instruction. Chapters 3 through 6 focus on the nature of interactions and facilitating conversations within online learning and the responsibilities of both the learners and the instructors in achieving successful experiences at a distance. Chapters 7 and 8 raise the issues of how online learning is changing as a business and how it changes education for careers. In chapter 9 Maeroff reviews the literature that questions the academic legitimacy of online learning and teaching which leads to a discussion of its regulation and accreditation in chapter 10. He suggests in chapter 11 that “if nothing else, the availability of online learning may force schools and colleges to reflect on their missions and on how they discharge their responsibilities,” and he observes that online learning supports a new emphasis on learning outcomes (p. 195). In chapter 12, he also posits that online learning may help educational institutions to work toward overcoming the digital divide by serving those least well served currently – nontraditional and special needs students. Online learning redefines the educational institution, as discussed in chapters 13 and 14, raising questions such as: What is an educational institution? Who is a teacher? What is a library? In turn, online learning is being redefined, with the creation of hybrid courses, web-enhanced courses, and virtual high schools and universities. Maeroff concludes in chapter 15 with a discussion of the historically assumed purposes of education and how they are being adjusted to the new realities of the cyber era.
As an online instructor and a coordinator of an online Master of Science in Educational Technology program at Eastern Connecticut State University, I appreciate Maeroff’s review of the issues and concerns about web-based learning. In a next edition of this or similar texts, I would suggest, though, that online learning be viewed in a wider social perspective. My students and I would disagree with the notion that online learning occurs in a classroom of one. My colleagues who teach online uniformly consider the focused conversations within the threaded discussions in a course to be a major component of the program; usually valued at between 20 – 30% of the participants’ assessment. In a recent course evaluation, online participants in one of my graduate courses, EDU 577: Educational Computing – Theory and Practice, commented that –
… even though some people miss "face-to-face" interaction, I actually think that online courses are better suited for participation. Everybody has had a college class dominated by three or four individuals who like to hear themselves talk. Usually, the other students have plenty of opinions, too, but often refrain from speaking due to exhaustion and because they want to get home before sunrise.
Online discussions are more equitable, as everyone is required to respond... without interruption, at her or his own convenience. And because threads are written, students have a chance to reflect and revise before submission.” (comments of an inservice teacher enrolled in online EDU 577: Educational Computing – Theory and Practice, Eastern Connecticut State University, Sunday, June 22, 2003, 12:07pm)
Another participant agreed –
Online discussions do make it more equitable for the people who may feel intimidated to discuss ideas in the class. It is helpful to take time to reflect between responses and for ideas more clearly. (comments of a preservice teacher enrolled in online EDU 577, Friday, June 27, 2003, 2:29pm)
A third responded –
… we do have time to think and complete our thoughts before we join the discussion. (comments of an inservice teacher enrolled in EDU 577, Friday, June 27, 2003 7:04pm)
This exchange lasted for over a week with participants sharing their comments at a distance and over time. Although they were alone with their workstations, the participants were sharing in a classroom of many.
I would also suggest that two models from educational history might be useful to reconsider when analyzing the future of online learning and teaching. Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society (1971) foreshadowed online learning’s discussion groups in the concept of learning webs. Illich wrote, “What are needed are new networks, readily available to the public and designed to spread equal opportunity for learning and teaching” (78-79).
The next edition of this text might continue to explore how online learning fulfills these suggested forms of learning exchanges. As a society, we are developing learners who are comfortable using instant messaging, participating in online chats and discussion forums, and obtaining and evaluating information from the web. Online learning may be the context for these learning webs.
In summertime, it is easy to remember the influence of the Chataqua movement on American thought. These gatherings of scholars and lay-people at summer encampments for entertainment and enlightenment incubated American philosophy and culture from its start in the 1870s. The Chataqua and Elderhostel movements provide learning webs for adults who have the resources and interests to continue learning in attractive settings. Online learning may also serve as a post-modern Chataquas - a resource for those who are unable to travel or for the times between voyages.
Online learning is not for all subjects or for all individuals, but it does provide for a setting for discussions and learning at a distance and across time. Although the individual is isolated before a computer screen, the learning, when the social context is adequately addressed through threaded discussions and email, is within a virtual community, a Chataqua for the 21st century.
Read Gene Maeroff’s text for a strong foundation and to prepare to witness the cyclone of online learning as it grows and changes the landscape of education.
Illich, I. (1971). Deschooling society. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, pages 78-79.)