Tebben Lopez/The Mirror

Remember the good old days of the ’90s when Friday nights were spent not with Jack, Jim, and the Captain, but with our siblings watching the newest Disney Channel movie? For instance, “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century” (don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.)  Though we’re not living in space, wearing neon spandex jumpsuits or listening to a rock star named after a microscopic organism, we’re not far off from the movie’s portrayal of 21st century life.

Zenon spent class on the computer with a virtual teacher. A recent article in the New York Times states that more schools are beginning to offer, and even mandate, online classes: school on the space station, minus the holographic teacher.

Integrating modern technology, students learn how to use online resources and computer programs. Online courses could supplement the material that students learn in class. The costs are lower for the school; as the article points out, online programs cost significantly less than hiring a traditional full-time teacher. One school in Memphis spends $164 for each student per online course; we pay more for one single class session at Fairfield.

But does a lower financial cost that’s fiscally logical outweigh the intangible values of education? Countless studies have shown that the poorer an area is, the poorer the quality education it is able to offer. Online classes allow schools in these areas to grant students more learning opportunities without breaking the budget.

And as cities and states try to deal with the current economic issues, more teachers and educational funding are being cut from the budget. When there aren’t funds for teachers, online courses are a practical option. But this will only be a temporary fix for the systemic problem that exists: the quality, or lack thereof, of education in economically poor areas.

Replacing full-time teachers with online courses would perpetuate the cycle of poor education in poor areas. Used as a primary education tool rather than a supplement, they would limit the quality of education students receive. Studies have shown the US is already well behind other leading nations in various disciplines, despite being one of the wealthiest nations. Online classes do not provide the highest quality education.

The article focused on secondary schools, but online course trends extend to universities. The Jesuit liberal arts education advocates a well-rounded education. For the Fairfield student who wants to get his or her Core over with at home during break instead of wasting away a semester in irrelevant lectures, online courses give students a basic knowledge of different core subjects and allow them time to take major classes they want.

Fairfield does offer a few online and partially-online courses. Yet despite the lower cost for the University, students taking those courses during the regular semesters do not receive a tuition cut. Fairfield also integrates some online programming, such as with Blackboard and Math Online. Reviews of Blackboard are mixed, but from personal experience taking calculus I can say Math Online is a pain. Maybe it’s because of my traditional education, but looking at graphs on the screen while doing work out on paper was ineffective.

There’s also the issue of plagiarism. As mentioned in the article, online programs make it very easy for students to cheat. Successful learning through online classes would take an honest student, but the reality is that we live in a dishonest world.

And if the quality of education argument isn’t enough, who would want to spend nearly a quarter of $1 million to essentially live at Fairfield for four years while taking online classes?

Zetus lupetus!

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