What Is The Future Of Discussions In Online Learning

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What Is The Future Of Discussions In Online Learning

By Len Wiseman, Vocativ Instructor, Sex Ed, Native American Culture and Sex Education

It’s been years since I first had conversations about online learning with educators and teachers from the outside, and I’ve concluded what I long suspected: Online learning is a great way to learn.

The reason for this has to do with the fact that online learning in many ways can be like brick-and-mortar classes in terms of attendance. Just look at the massive online open courses, or MOOCs, offered on platforms like Coursera. When a student signs up to take a MOOC, they agree to take online classes all of the time, not just during the duration of the course. You can’t afford to drop it because it will hurt your standing in the system. This creates a different dynamic than the traditional classroom in that a student can always join the conversation that is occurring in the class, as long as they have time to do so.

For example, this spring I taught a class on Oral Sex Awareness: An Introduction to the Research and Practice of Oral Sex, and my students spent roughly 15-20 hours in class from when I started teaching on June 5 until the end of my course. Most of this is due to the fact that the students met for online meeting times twice a week, and also from the power of really meeting people while reading the materials they downloaded onto their laptops.

At the end of my course, my students filled out a survey where they ranked their experience with a close-range MoOC, and were asked to volunteer comments on the best way I had taught the material. I went out of my way to give my students lots of opportunities to ask questions and get answers, and it turned out that this was essential to creating an atmosphere in the class where oral sex could be discussed openly and with relish. One student even created a video in which they delved into the topic in greater depth and then transcribed it in a computer program for me.

Now, I realize this class was a niche topic (remember when we used to get made fun of for this?), but it’s clearly not the only area where online learning can provide this opportunity. If your class is focused on sex education, you can design your courses to create opportunities for student discussion that are mostly online. This can lead to an open, fun environment in which students can engage in meaningful discussions about this important topic.

Of course, this process can backfire, when online lessons or lectures drift into endless class time when students are supposed to be engaged in active, independent reading. There’s nothing wrong with using online lessons to create high-impact teaching moments, as long as you can respond quickly to student feedback and turn those moments into teaching moments. Online learning has the ability to increase the number of active, independent readers and take high quality courses to new heights and points of learning.

But for online to reach its full potential, it must continue to build and support more public and participatory discussion opportunities in classrooms, including expert and informal criticism of lectures, and open discussion in group settings that include students and their families. It’s this kind of inclusive communication, as well as understanding that many students who are returning to class in the fall are teenagers or young adults without in-person socializing, that ultimately will benefit everyone.

Len Wiseman is a Spanish and Latin American Studies instructor at Franklin and Marshall College and the author of “Open: How Oral Sex and Online Sex Can Prepare Students for Communal Sex.”

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