The issue study presentation on virtual schools caused me to think about and reflect on my experience this year teaching Spanish II online, as well as my past experiences taking an online course as a student. I think there are some definite benefits to an online course. Students can access the course from anywhere with an internet connection. They can work at their own pace, at the time of day or time of week that works best with their schedules. They can take as much time as they need with assignments, instead of being confined to a 50 minute class period. The online environment also provides comfort for shy students to express themselves when they might remain silent otherwise and allows all students to participate in a more open and tolerant community than might exist in a face-to-face situation. Online courses also allow a lot of room for differentiated instruction in order to meet the needs of all students, without the stigma of ability grouping that can arise in a regular classroom.
As a teacher, I enjoy the flexible schedule as well. I also enjoy being able to communicate one-on-one with my students via email, phone, or instant messenger. In a regular classroom, it can be difficult to get one-on-one time with each student. However, there are some drawbacks to an online class, such as the technical difficulties that inevitably arise, as well as difficulties contacting students who aren't logging in regularly. Ultimately, though, the biggest drawback is simply the lack of face-to-face interaction. Although the online environment can be great for certain activities and discussions, the element of socialization is an important one that should not be forgotten. Students need to learn to work with each other in a variety of situations and communicate orally as well as through writing. In fact, students who are kinesthetic or auditory learners might be inhibited by the online environment and may need face-to-face interactions to learn best. Ideally, I think online activities should be a supplement to a regular class, not a replacement. I have loved classes that extensively used discussion boards, emails, etc, because it helps to extend the conversations and thinking outside of class and helped us to connect on a deeper level with one another, which we could then build upon in a face-to-face situation.