Technology: Not a replacement for campus

The college experience: Students across the country celebrate it in a variety of ways. Some pop their collars and streak the grounds, while others harbor strong emotions for turkeys/Hokies. Some students just hit up Wawa in the early-morning hours.

However, for a growing number of students, the college experience has been reduced to a laptop and an internet connection. The debate over online courses is growing louder — last week a Huffington Post blogger discussed whether technology will eventually render traditional campuses unnecessary.

Can you earn an online degree for less money and less time than a typical four-year collegiate degree and still be successful? More and more people are answering yes.

I don’t disagree that online universities create opportunities for millions of people who otherwise would be unable to receive higher education. There’s nothing wrong with bringing your transcript and degree from an online program to an interview; after all, a degree is a degree.

However, I do disagree with those who say that online courses outperform the more typical in-school collegiate courses. While online degrees can help propel a career, a degree from a four-year institution will provide innumerable opportunities for bettering yourself and your community. Attending college in person creates more well-rounded and successful individuals.

Look at American society: A degree from a four-year institution holds more clout than a community college or online degree for a reason. Much like being able to vote and to drive, graduating from college is a rite of passage in our society.

Speaking of careers, explain to me how an online student can take a chemistry lab. You can read the book and take notes online, but you can’t substitute the experience of mixing potassium chlorate and gummy bears. Yes, you could Google it, but that’s not the same as wiping gummy bits off your lab coat.

Online courses offer you the world in form of eBooks, Wikipedia articles and Bing toolbars. You can read an article about the need to diversify a workplace and become open-minded about religious beliefs and practices. That’s fine, but until you physically interact (not Facebook chat) with someone of a different race, religion or lifestyle, you won’t truly understand what it means to have an open mind.

As we become more dependent on our smart phones and online resources, the lure of online classes grows stronger. Might as well get a degree while I surf the web for pictures of grumpy cats, right?

Look at the larger picture. People complain about boredom and how there’s simply nothing to do. The next time you hear people say that, look at what they’re doing. My money says they’re on their phones, texting or flinging around angry birds.

Before you laud online courses for all their greatness, keep in mind that such courses help perpetuate this culture of online reality. If we say education is the key to a life of civic involvement and societal improvement, then we cannot get that education from hours and weeks spent staring at a screen, shut off from the real world. Online courses are not a substitute for the real and practical experiences offered at four-year institutions.

Older generations didn’t have the opportunity to carry phones in their pockets; now cell phones account for the majority of class disruptions. Lecture halls once laughed at one-room schools; now online programs mock four-year institutions.

Online courses aren’t a terrible idea — they help millions of Americans. An online degree is the only option for millions of people seeking higher education.

However, online courses are not, and never will be, a replacement for the experience of a traditional four-year institution. When you find yourself at Wawa at some odd hour of the night, remember all that you have going for you. Take advantage of college while you’re here.

Live that college experience.

Email Chris Weber at


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