When I first started distance education (online) courses back in 2004 things were different than they are now. From that statement you might gather that things have improved, you know, something technical, so it has to have gotten better. The situation is quite the opposite. When I started online courses, I liked them better than lecture courses because they were better on many different aspects. Online instructors used to be specialized in what they did, they had a special affection for the online course delivery method. Often instructors would use such tools as web based chat, interactive websites and sometimes even video to keep students engaged in courses. The point being that the courses were actually web based courses, using the Internet as a key part of the instructional process and not just as the delivery method for the course. Now courses seem to be more structured like independent study courses that merely utilize the Internet as a method for sending in papers or taking quizzes. There is no instruction and often instructors are primarily lecturers looking to pick up a few extra hours on their schedule. To students, these instructors barely exist. I have a hard time remembering the names of my instructors because of their lack of interaction. I remember a time when I took online courses and I had a message in my inbox from an instructor at least once a week, sometimes more. Instructors would do things like send out links that may be of interest, or some little personal observation about course performance. Now the courses are pretty much forced to run themselves. It is quite a sad change. I feel as though the changes in the way online courses have been treated will eventually cause the online method to either be terminated, or force them into a completely different accreditation status.
I believe the change in the way distance education courses have been taught in recent years has a lot to do with adult learners wanting to complete degrees. Those adult students do not want a lot of a materials to handle, or any type of interaction, they just want to do the reading for the course, take the test, and then get a meaningless piece of paper to stick on the wall. I do not believe those students truly want an education, they want a degree. With that downturn of academic ambition there isn’t a lot of reason for instructors to be involved or to do much more than a copy/paste online course in Blackboard. The courses are technically capable of running themselves, they can grade a lot of their own material and they can handle operating on a schedule, no intervention required, but do we really want to change the way academic institutions are structured to have students interacting with a course and not an instructor? If this pattern continues, that’s what will happen, no more instructors, just courses and “course designers” (the people that presently prepare courses for instructors).
I hope that when I begin my masters program I won’t find the same thing in graduate courses as I am finding in undergrad courses.