Are Online Courses Viable?

A Coventry University professor has warned students against seeing online learning as an alternative and cheaper option to paying £9,000 tuition fees.

Professor of Organisational Behaviour Jon Billsberry believes teaching on Second Life, a virtual online social platform, would work out more expensive than university and wouldn’t prove value for money for students due to technical glitches and methodical communication methods.

Billsberry’s response comes after another Coventry University professor Maggi Saven-Baden released her book  A Practical Guide To Using Second Life last month – where she said there would ‘undoubtedly’ be a surge of interest in online learning from September 2012 as tuition fees rise.

A user who has lectured a class of Open University students on Second Life, Billsberry highlighted that from a lecturer’s perspective there are too many obstacles in the way for teaching to be a success over the internet. Writes Adam Manning…

Billsberry said: “It takes me an hour to do the lecture and will take me even longer to prepare for it because I need to know how to use this virtual online medium.”

“If I’m using a lecture theatre I know how to use it and know a few tricks, but if I go to Second Life I’ve got to think about how do I use this interactive environment which allows a different engagement with students.”

“Then there’s the technical issues of how do I make PowerPoint work and stage acts in there. And if the teaching isn’t done properly then it will show up much more because people can record what they’ve seen.”

Everything comes at a cost, but despite tuition fees trebling from the current £3,290 cap, Professor Billsberry still believes students would have to pay more with Second Life.

“If the cost of education is about the time and expertise of the people running the courses they take longer in Second Life, not shorter” he said.

“You may not have the lecture theatres but you’ve still got to pay the people to teach, and it will take them longer to do it through a different form of interaction.”

 Despite issues of time lagging interrupting communication methods and creative avatar characters posing a huge distraction, Professor Saven-Baden is predicting an online breakthrough into vital social fields.

“We’re on the move in a big way at the moment” said Saven-Baden , who is just starting her next book on undergraduate research which is due out in 2012. “We haven’t quite anticipated where this technology is going to go next.”

“There are things such as augmented reality, and ways of combining things like medical simulation or just simulation in general to make these worlds more real.”

“The interesting thing is how we begin to combine different types of online learning together to be something more holistic.”

The book A Practical Guide To Using Second Life is priced at £24.99, and is available online and at Waterstones next to the Lanchester Library

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