When I was in high school, classes were often boring. The teacher stood in front of the class and talked, the students took notes, and there was hardly any interaction. It made it far too easy to zone out and stop paying attention.
Some people think kids not paying attention in class is Attention Deficit Disorder. But maybe it’s just that the teacher is BORING.
I much prefer a class where the teacher leads the students in a debate, where multiple viewpoints are shared and discussed. The teacher guides the debate to stay on topic, and asks the students questions, but a lot of the discussion comes from the students themselves. It’s interactive, engaging, and sometimes even fun.
One of the most fun things about it is when the students bring up something even the teacher didn’t know. Oftentimes it will be some example from recent news that relates to the topic at hand. For example, in my Interpersonal Communication class this past week, we were discussing the media coverage of the events in Boston. Several students brought up various news reports that others may not have heard of, and we discussed the communication theories about how the media was communicating with the public. It was interesting to get various different viewpoints, even when some of the students didn’t agree completely.
Some of these debates can also lead to deep, involved discussions. The other day I got into a long discussion with another student, and we ended up spending a good ten minutes trading different viewpoints. It took the subject much deeper than what we would have gotten out of the textbook alone. Reading things straight from the book only gives one surface-level viewpoint. A long discussion exposes multiple ideas, and leads to a much richer learning experience.
Another advantage of this type of discussion-based class is that it makes you care more about the subject. If you have to argue a point of view and defend your reasoning, you end up more invested in the subject. This even makes it easier to write papers on the topic; if you already understand your point of view because you’ve defended it in a discussion, you’ll have a lot more material to write about when a paper comes due.
If I were ever in a purely online class, I think class discussions would be the biggest thing I’d miss. Even an online chat room wouldn’t provide as rich of a medium for really good discussions. Online learning has its place, but I don’t think it can serve as a complete replacement for the classroom.