Column: The fate of schools and video storesLast week I drove past the Video Update store in Eagan. There were huge “Going Out of Business” signs plastered the windows. I considered stopping to pick up some $1.99 DVDs, but I still haven’t watched the stack of DVDs I bought when the last video store in Farmington went out of business.
By: Mary Lebens, The Farmington Independent
Last week I drove past the Video Update store in Eagan. There were huge “Going Out of Business” signs plastered the windows. I considered stopping to pick up some $1.99 DVDs, but I still haven’t watched the stack of DVDs I bought when the last video store in Farmington went out of business.
The rise of the Internet is creating far-reaching tremors of change. Netflix and Hulu replaced video stores in a mere few years. Technologists are predicting schools, as we know them, will become icons of the past just like video stores. Online classes will replace face-to-face interaction as students virtually join class via web cams and chat rooms.
Let’s face it, I’m a geek. I ditched the video store and cable for Netflix almost 10 years ago. So being an early tech adopter, I completed one of my master’s degrees entirely online. Now as a college teacher I occasionally teach online courses. Online education has changed immensely in just a few short years. The tools available for teachers and students are simply amazing, allowing for interactive discussions and lectures.
Despite my enthusiasm for online learning, when I chose a doctoral program where the instruction is completely face-to-face. With an online program, my commute to school would be pretty simple. I’d pull on my favorite pair of Tigers pajamas from the Fan Club in downtown Farmington, grab a hot mug of java, and wander down the hall into my home office.
Instead I spend 12 hours driving across the country in a hatchback with no cruise control. I discovered the hard way (literally) that if I don’t put a pillow under my rear end I have trouble walking following my 12-hour commute. After I hobble out of the car, I spend a week or two in nine hour a day classes, followed by nightly homework sessions. Of course, there is plenty of reading to prepare for class, as well as a final project or paper waiting after my long drive home.
So why go the extra mile (or 600) to attend a face-to-face class instead of an online class? While I appreciate the master’s degree I earned online, and the doors it opened for me, I realized I missed making contact with other people at school. During my last doctoral residency, I joked with my classmates over ice cream and helped one of the guys pick out a bouquet for his wife for their anniversary. These mundane connections mean so much to me, because they’ve planted the seeds of good friendships. Now my classmates, my friends, are counting on me to help them get through this tough process of earning a doctoral degree.
When I earned my master’s degree online, I couldn’t physically attend classes because I was on call 24 hours a day for my job. I used to get calls in the restroom from my manager, wanting to know why I wasn’t at my desk. (Needless to say, I let those calls go straight to voicemail.) An online master’s degree program let me continue my education without losing my job. Many of my students in the online classes I teach face similar problems with balancing work, family, and school (and micro-managing bosses).
Will face-to-face schools go the way of the dinosaur and the video store? No, definitely not. All I know of my instructors and classmates from my online graduate school is a video image, a few comments in a chat room, and an old archive of email messages. While my degree allowed me to further my career, my confidence and professional social skills atrophied. I never gave a classmate a high-five after acing a tough exam, and I never caught the glimpse of disappointment in my professor’s eyes when he handed me a paper with an unexpectedly low score.
A recent survey by the American Management Association found the number one skill employers want in employees is teamwork. Employers also ranked communication and collaboration highly. How do we teach those skills in an online classroom? Educators are scrambling to try to figure this out. How do we replace high-fives and sharing ice cream together in an online environment? How do we build teams without human contact? To be honest, attending face-to-face classes built my confidence by forcing me to finesse my professional communication to strike the right balance between assertiveness and civility in teamwork. Education is a much more complex transaction than renting a DVD. Although the availability of online classes is changing education, I bet we won’t see any schools plastered with “Going Out of Business” signs in the near future. Not unless we figure out how to transmit a high-five and a bowl of ice cream through an internet connection.