“Online courses should replace some courses and offer enrichment and a stronger sense of interest to students, but they will never replace what a college has to offer: going to college, moving away from home, and raising oneself as a true individual. These experiences are something that online courses can’t imitate.” –Norman (Requested to exclude his last name in his quotations)
“These courses are designed for your own pace. I haven’t been doing courses daily, but I can make it up during the week. Since they’re online courses, I can do them anywhere with an Internet connection.”—Lon Yin Chan
“With online courses, there are no office hours to seek help when you don’t understand something. There are, of course, discussion forums where one might get an answer from another classmate, but it isn’t the same as learning in a classroom. Real education involves being inspired by class discussions with professors, and analyzing or working through problems together. These qualities don’t come through to lectures.”—Michael Zamansky
Focus Sentence: Online courses are becoming increasingly popular among students at Stuyvesant, especially those affiliated with some of the best schools in the United States. While many agree that online courses offer a great alternative to an elective class and expand knowledge, they also agree that online courses cannot replace a real college experience.
It started with a few students, who publicized the movement and encouraged friends and classmates to join through floods of Facebook posts and invitations. Pretty soon, the publicity grew viral, and the small group of people expanded into huge teams, all competing for academic pride. And as the teams grew, so did the advent of this new academic revolution: online courses. This new educational movement, made up of the “Big Three”: Udacity (affiliated with Stanford University), Coursera (affiliated with a range of universities including Caltech and Princeton), and edX (affiliated with Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley), seeks to throw open the gates of America’s top schools through the power of the Internet, and Stuyvesant students have enthusiastically become an active part of this upcoming technology wave.
Free online courses offer anyone interested in learning, regardless of age, a chance learn from some of the finest professors of America’s top schools. Each week, lectures are uploaded and paired with a quiz to test students’ knowledge from watching the video. Homework usually consists of a set of problems to test understanding. The great part of online courses is that they allow students to take classes on their own time. Sophomore Lon Yin Chan and co-captain of the Nerdfighters Udacity team said, “These courses are designed for your own pace. I haven’t been doing courses daily, but I can make it up during the week. Since they’re online courses, I can do them anywhere with an Internet connection.” Unlike the college courses frequently advertised on television and on the Internet, these online courses are free and provide more leeway—if a student is uninterested, he or she can choose to un-enroll at any time; likewise, a student can join the class anytime. Although no college credit is given, these classes are an excellent addition to a student’s college transcript, indicating both a dedication to and a passion for learning. However, those who expect a simple cakewalk through the weeks will be thoroughly surprised, as many of the classes are rigorous and require much effort. At the end of the program, certificates are given to students who demonstrate outstanding work, primarily those who complete all assignments on time and whose grades meet a certain average.
With the creation of Udacity, which focuses on the mathematical and scientific fields, came the start of three powerful teams: the Stuyvesant High School Team, led by co-captains and sophomores Elvin Shoyfer and Norman, who requested to exclude his last name; the Nerdfighters Team, led by sophomores Lon Yin Chan and Eda Tse; and the Stuyvesant Computer Science Team, led by Computer Science coordinator Michael Zamansky. These teams competed globally to become winners of the Udacity High School Challenge, which requires ranking in the Top Seven by the end of the competition. Rankings were determined through the number of units, or collections of lessons, each team had completed collectively. The team that finishes in first place wins a prize sending leaders to a trip to Stanford to view a special presentation. This adds to the motivation to win and urges students of a team to work harder in bringing up their rank. However, as Zamansky was the captain of the Stuyvesant Computer Science Team, his team could not qualify for the prize because the competition was only open to high school students. Nevertheless, his students continued to work diligently in order to meet the goal of placing their team into the top ranks of the contest.
It is this emphasis of teamwork and of communication among students that separates Udacity from the rest of its cohorts. While all three programs contain discussion forums for each class that are constantly humming with new questions and answers that prove to be as educating as the lectures themselves, Udacity takes this cooperation a step forward. The competition and teamwork aspects of Udacity are what appeal to the Stuyvesant student body.
As a whole, many students who are part of this educational trend find that they would, without hesitation, recommend these online courses to fellow peers. They appreciate the freedom of the online courses, especially the ability to select certain courses that pertain to their interests. This is a clear example of how Stuyvesant students are motivated to seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge, demonstrated by their voluntary actions to take online courses, perhaps disproving recent rumors describing Stuyvesant students as purely grade-obsessed cheaters. With no required curriculum, students have the liberty to sign up only for the courses that they most enjoy to enrich their knowledge. Providing a stark contrast to the rigid class requirements of high school, online programs have found to be a great alternative to elective classes that students not have time to take. “Students are often plagued with stringent requirements on their schedules and end up having to take classes they have absolutely no interest in. Sure, there are electives, but choices are always limited, and teacher instruction might be poor. Online classes offer them more choices and teaching instruction is always changing based on user feedback,” Norman said.
From a teacher’s point of view, these online courses are a viable source of information. Zamansky has tested several platforms and offered mixed feedback. “Online courses are a valuable source of information, and it’s great that they offer quality education for free. These classes are like textbooks on a different medium, but just as there are good, comprehensible textbooks, there are also bad textbooks—it depends on the professor giving the lectures,” Zamansky said. In addition, he made the point that lectures are not the most effective way to teach. “With online courses, there are no office hours to seek help when you don’t understand something. There are, of course, discussion forums where one might get an answer from another classmate, but it isn’t the same as learning in a classroom. Real education involves being inspired by class discussions with professors and analyzing or working through problems together. These qualities don’t come through to lectures,” he said.
Despite how favorable online courses have come to be seen in the eyes of many, the biggest mystery for the future involves the question of whether they will become predominant in future education. Rumors have circulated that these programs might make up the next generation of higher-level education, but Stuyvesant students beg to differ. Though Udacity and its conglomerates provide free education, students still stomach the high cost of universities for the benefits of a real-life college experience. To many, going off to college encourages students to become self-sufficient and includes many factors that the Internet simply cannot offer “Online courses should offer enrichment and a stronger sense of interest in various subjects to students, but they will never replace what a college has to offer: going to college, moving away from home, and raising oneself as a true individual. These experiences are something that online courses can’t imitate,” Norman said.