This week I’m taking an online course on how to develop and teach a course online. I have to admit that I’m a bit reluctant about teaching through a computer; I’m old-fashioned in this respect and believe that losing the experience of classroom learning could have long-term consequences. That said, I won’t fight the trend, and what a trend it is!
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) says that more than 20 percent of undergraduates are taking at least one distance learning course in a given semester. DOE has predicted that in 2013, 18 percent of undergraduate students will get 80 percent of their education through online courses. Older, married students are taking more online classes than traditional college students, but the trends keep shifting. I can cite an example from personal experience: my daughter, soon after being awarded a bachelor’s degree, earned her entire master’s degree from a highly respected state university without ever setting foot in a classroom.
But can public relations be taught online? Well, it seems I’m about to find out. I’ve been developing a graduate degree in PR which includes a plan to offer the entire program online within five years. At least one undergraduate public relations course has been developed and taught online at Hofstra and more are in the works. Some could reasonably argue that it’ll be challenging to teach the nuances of pitching stories, planning events, or crisis management through distance learning. True public relations, by its very nature, is about relationships: relationships with reporters, with constituents, with audiences, and with new publics. Some of the people skills involved in PR may be hard to interpret in an online classroom.
Distance learning widens access to education and brings a potential global audience to campus. It’s a godsend to the disciplined student with physical challenges or transportation issues or scheduling problems. It’s not just the future; it is here and now and fast-expanding.
Whatever you believe about online PR courses, I’m going to give this online teaching thing the old college try. Maybe I’ll learn something. Your thoughts?