Time Saving with Online Learning

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Today, I turned in my grades for my first online course. I’ve been a distance learner but this J-term was my first time teaching a web-based class. When I proposed developing the curriculum for online learning, I still had my doubts if I could effectively meet my course objectives. I prepared the course with the best examples of online learning I researched. To my delight, my students achieved the learning outcomes and reviewed the course positively. Additionally, I gained deeper insight into online learning. In an increasingly digital world, digital courses must be at the forefront of higher education. Online education allows faculty and student alike to be freed of the restrictions of time and space; giving back time to better approach their work.

The Department of Education reported that around 4.5 million students of Title IV schools were enrolled in some or entirely in online courses. This accounts for a quarter of enrolled students in the institutions. Additionally, many turn to web-based courses through services like Udemy, Coursera, and dozens of other massive open online courses (MOOCs). Online learning is clearly gaining traction as a staple of higher education.

As I developed my online class, Hyperlocal Storytelling, I initially thought of only the convenience it offered me and my students. Within the first week, I learned there was another advantage. Time. I had time to work on other courses’ lesson plans. Similarly, my students were able to attend more courses. The confines of traditional courses can actually limit what can be accomplished. Online courses can be worked on at any time from anywhere. This flexibility gives students more freedom in their academic load and in pursuing internships or careers.

Online education isn’t perfect for every situation. Education Database Online notes two reasons students would seek traditional learning; students can utilize a university’s equipment and access tutoring and assistance. Furthermore, many students desire the tangible experience of a classroom.

Part of the challenge for online classes might be in their structure. Are the faculty creating the right learning environment? In my own preparation, my research advocated for students to have significant access to their instructors and be engaged multiple ways. My approach was to teach through the collective of emails, video lectures, reading, and diverse online and offline assignments. Additionally, students could get my assistance via video chat, phone, emails, and even office hours. Anticipating their needs, I tried to overcome some of online education’s shortcomings. The outcome was overwhelmingly positive.

I don’t believe the choice in higher education is either-or. I foresee a hybrid environment becoming the new status quo. There are now countless web-based tools for communication, collaboration, and content creation. Could writing and research based courses make a digital shift? What if more lecture heavy classes were adapted for web-based learning? Could it stand to reason that half Gen. Ed. requirements be taken online? Gaining back time doesn’t equate to a sacrifice of quality. It could mean, however, that students will have the opportunity to explore their field of study more fully.

It will take major changes to transition higher education to hybrid learning. The educational environment will need to be rebuilt from the ground up and long-held traditions will need to be revised. However, as students gain more flexibility, they will discover new ways to invest in their learning. Faculty will be free to strengthen their pedagogy. As a whole, higher education will become more relevant to those in pursuit of knowledge. An efficient online learning environment that is in tandem with traditional courses will create an education that is time well spent.

 

Oil tax breaks cripple Oklahoma schools

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In 2014, the State of Oklahoma wagered the good times would last. Oklahoma placed its chip on tax breaks. A gamble made in desperation, the state stood so much to lose. The dice rolled snake eyes. Every state department is malnourished by budget cuts. Facing bleaker economics in 2016, Oklahoma demands even more cuts. One of the most devastated departments is Education. The children of Oklahoma are the ones to pay the price for a bet gone badly.

The cost of oil comfortably sat at over $100 a barrel in the summer of 2014. Oklahoma passed a bill that legislature hoped would encourage more drilling. Starting in June 2015, new wells would only be taxed 2% for their first 3 years, afterwards climbing to 7%. Oil plays a key part of Oklahoma’s Gross Production revenue, which is the state’s 3rd largest source of revenue. By the end of 2014, however, the price of oil plummeted to half its value. Starting the New Year, oil is under $30 a barrel. This compounded the existing economic woes caused by low top tax rates. In response, the State of Oklahoma forced massive budget cuts across almost every department. Already ranked one of the worst states for education, the Oklahoma Department of Education was hit even harder by another round of budget cuts this January. The excessive tax breaks to both individuals and companies have created the opposite effect of their purpose.

The lower tax rate for drilling is not without its backers. Supporters are quick to point to oil price’s ebb and flow. The bill makes sense when oil prices are high and when residents are pouring into the economy. Advocates don’t want to make knee-jerk reactions in the event prices should rise again. The problem is that the entire bill relies on the accuracy of estimates, which have proven over and over to not be reliable.

The combination of income tax cuts and tax breaks to the oil industry has crippled Oklahoma’s departments. This includes almost $47 million cuts from the Department of Education. A 3% reduction is mandated this year across the board. School lunch matching loses 30%. AP teacher training, AP test fee assistance, and staff development funds are halved. The STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is completely defunded. It’s predicted some schools will be forced to close.

Oklahoma is caught in a downward spiral with its tax breaks and budget cuts. Education leads to prosperity. By defunding education efforts, Oklahoma will fail in creating leaders and industry pioneers. It’s self-damning to cut STEM programs that would produce future engineers and scientists. Oklahoma’s taxes must be revised for any recovery to occur.

Renewable energy is gaining more attention as oil’s appeal wanes. Despite push back from oil lobbyists, Oklahoma should focus its tax incentives for the emerging wind and solar industry. While oil will always remain in constant flux, wind and solar energy would provide a stable market. The State is poised to be a national leader in renewable energy if it would make the commitment. Along with revisions to income tax rates, the Gross Production revenue from a diverse energy portfolio would put Oklahoma’s education back on track, ensuring a brighter future.

It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”