2015: An Online Learning Odyssey

“Hello, Dave. You’re looking well today.”

These iconic words are from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 science fiction movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nearly 50 years ago, people were envisioning a time when we communicated with artificial intelligence in the same way we communicate with humans. And today, we are close to that, with Apple introducing us to Siri and Windows 10 giving us Cortana. (Hopefully, they won’t refuse to open the pod bay doors).

"2001: A Space Odyssey," MGM 1968
From “2001: A Space Odyssey,” MGM 1968. Images available at http://www.imdb.com/

Even the idea of taking online classes seems like a page from Kubrick’s screenplay. One of the benefits of taking an online class is the ability to take it alone, when it fits our schedule and without having to interact with others. One of the drawbacks to taking an online class is also the ability to take it alone, without having to interact with others. This creates a paradox, for sure, but is online learning truly AI communication? I don’t think so, and here’s why.

Every day we see more and more evidence of human-to-computer interaction: people with cell phones and other mobile devices. Even toddlers in shopping carts are being held captive by electronic devices. What we’re seeing less of is the human-to-human interaction, where people talk to each other without electronics in their hands. Often they’ll say it’s easier to communicate with texts and emojis than it is to talk. But they don’t realize that as long as there is someone on the other end, you ARE communicating with someone. You are interacting with others. In fact, you are interacting with others in ways our ancestors never dreamed of, and you are doing it frequently. So, this human-to-human-via-computer interaction can be a positive thing.

However, it seems that students in online courses stop just short of that interaction when in their classes. They log in—alone. They do their work—alone. And they log out—alone. So, the challenge for Parkland College’s online teaching faculty is, “how do we get students to interact with the course and with other students?”

Faculty are working on this. They are creating courses online that are rich with engaging content. They are creating adventures (video lectures, study guides), mysteries (assignments, quizzes), and conversation (discussions, groups). The key for students is to engage with the content and with other students. And provide feedback to faculty. (Remember those emails you get asking you to complete a course evaluation form?)

Parkland students should never feel like Dave, all alone in the vast space that is online learning, because online learning is not like HAL. The pod bay doors will always be open and welcoming. All you need to do is come in.

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