Students call shift a ‘tragedy’

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The Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary has chosen to shift its master of education programs entirely online. This includes specific spirituality courses, which has subsequently caused unrest amongst the student body.

Self-realization, Sustainability and Well-being, a professional graduate program at the U of C, is one of the many making the transition from a traditional classroom setting into a fully online forum.

Pam Blake, an open studies student enrolled in many of these classes, said she can’t understand the reasoning behind the shift.

“I think the biggest tragedy is that when we are in these classes, people are sharing their personal stories and as you know when you are talking to someone, the personal story just kind of flows,” said Blake, a department head at Jack James High School.

“If you have to stop and search for the ‘E’ key or how to capitalize the ‘M,’ then it’s not the same experience. When you are watching people tell their story, they are expressing huge emotion around it. It’s that emotion that we relate to.”

Blake, who has a master’s degree in art, leadership and administration, has never taken an online course and said that being pushed into the environment is daunting.

“I know that when those of us over 50, who weren’t raised with computers in our cribs, think about going back to school, the online component can be intimidating unless you’ve kept up with electronics,” she said.

A loss of intimacy

This past summer, Blake partook in a nine-day intensive course entitled the Spirituality of Inspired Leadership – one of the courses that is making the switch – and said she can’t imagine how the course could be as satisfying a learning experience if it is conducted online.

“I came home with a headache every day either from crying or from trying not to because you are so relating to the stories that [classmates] are telling you,” she said. “They are such gut-wrenching stories of their lives that it justifies the learning.

Pam Blake

University of Calgary student Pam Blake said there were often emotional connections in her master of education classes, something she says would be missing once those classes shift to an online forum.

Photo by: Derrick NewmanBlake said she sees irony in people training for face-to-face based jobs in what she called a de-personlized online format.

David Jones, an education professor at the U of C, will be at the forefront of teaching these new online classes, which include Spirituality of Teaching Excellence, Spirituality of Inspired Leadership, and Love, Spirituality and Leadership.

But even he said he’s not a fan of the new online delivery mode.

“The face-to-face courses have an immediacy and an intimacy that may be hard to duplicate online,” he said. “In spiritual circles it is very important to be in the company of the teacher because the teacher gives off an energy that supports and vitalizes.”

Meanwhile, in moving into an online environment the U of C has also hiked tuition fees associated with these courses.

“The online courses cost $1,182 each, or nearly double what the former face-to-face courses cost,” Jones said. “Universities are increasingly being called to find more and more of their own funding, as government support has been shrinking.”

This is something student Blake said she can’t get on board with.

“How can it be more expensive to deliver it online than to have it in a classroom with technical support and the professor in front of you,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Jones said he feels confident he can deliver the courses online with the same effect as the face-to-face environment. Although, he said he will miss being in the classroom and will have to find something to make up for it.

“I know that David is determined to keep it alive and find a way to do it online. God bless him for trying,” Blake said. “I just don’t see how the intensity of the emotion can come across.”

A value in both methods

Kimberley Holmes, currently in the doctorate of education program at the U of C, with a focus on mindfulness in education, has been a teacher for over 20 years and has earned her master of arts in organizational learning and leadership.

She has taken courses both online and in-person and said she can see the value in both.

“I think some of the human connection is lost,” Holmes said of online courses. “However, I think it depends on the individual. Some people are very comfortable in the online environment and find it easier to share.

“Half of my master’s program was done online at Royal Roads [University] and it was excellent. I think a blended environment is the ideal with some face-to-face and some online. I think many learners like online. Most graduate students are full-time teachers so the online format allows for flexibility.”

Both Holmes and Blake said they agree a positive aspect of the online element of the classes does allow those living at a distance to still partake in the learning.

“The key is to bring the human element and the technology together so we don’t lose the connection,” Holmes said.

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