Are we comparing apples to oranges when we ask ourselves: “Is online teaching better than (or equal to) face-to-face?” Shouldn’t the correct question be: “Is online teaching better than (or equal to) offline teaching?” Is this a trivial matter I am after? It might not be, here is what I think. The following thoughts are not based on any specific cases or examples. Call them stream of consciousness, if you like.
Let’s play with the words a little bit. When we use the term “face-to-face” as opposed to online, most of the time we are referring face-to-face being a “high-bandwidth” medium, meaning there are richer use of non-verbal cues, as opposed “leaner” online ways of communication (for a richer debate on this see Walther 1996). So, when people complain about online not being as “effective” there is an overall tendency to critique the leanness of online communication, rather than it being online, medium-wise. In other words, the doubt casted on the effectiveness of online instruction is often look down upon for the fact that it might not get just as “personal” or one might not feel “present.” What I will try to argue here is that online can be richer and face-to-face can be leaner in terms of interaction (between students, between teacher and students).
So, keeping with the same line of thought, it might be safe to argue that there can be two modes of teaching, online or offline (call it real-life, if you will). These modes can be rich (more and frequent interaction) or lean (less interaction). So, here is the new taxonomy:
Figure 1. Mete’s take on online vs. f2f
Forgive me if this taxonomy, or a version of it, already exists or this doesn’t make any sense. But I would like some credit for being able to prepare that graph just using Google Docs! -digression alert!- So, according to this view, an online class can be rich and frequent (quadrant 1) and a face-to-face class can be “lean” (quadrant 3). So, in a face-to-face class, the students can feel very much disconnected from everything going around in the class, while a student in an online class might be mesmerized and paying full attention to the “class.” This being, said I feel like one more dimension is missing here. The web 2.0ness of the technology used.
As we all know, the fact that a course is offered online does not mean that it is highly “techy” or similarly, the fact that a course is face-to-face does not mean it is less “techy.” A face-to-face class “blending” the online web 2.0 tools might as well be more (I mean a lot more) effective than an online counterpart which cannot implement these new tools. For instance, uploading doc assignments both in a face-to-face and online class put them to a similar level of techiness for me (you need to download the attachment, open them up, correct/grade them, upload them back and email them). In this day, we should be integrating newer technologies that make use of the cloud and collaborative abilities of it better. In fact, as is pointed out by research, blended options, face-to-face with the support of technology is better.
Let’s digress and end…
< rant>Why oh why ed-tech programs are so out of the tech industry? Why aren’t ed-tech programs are among the first to beta-test a product? Why aren’t there frequent visitors/reporters of educators at technology conferences such as CES, MacWorld, etc? </ rant>