Online classes are offered by most colleges and universities to provide options for students with differing needs and interests.
Instead of sitting in a traditional classroom, students participate in online classes using a computer, smart phone or tablet with an Internet connection to interact with instructors and classmates around the world. Students may take online courses in addition to traditional courses or complete an entire course of study online leading to a degree.
This trend is not limited to first world countries only. Most developing countries including Rwanda have embraced the online system and courses such as Advanced Diploma in Nursing, Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and ICT-related are offered by local universities.
Adrian Muyoboko, 34, a book shop owner based in Kabeza, says the last time he was in a classroom setting was when he was in high school. And yet Muyoboko continued for higher education.
“Thereafter I did an online degree in Business Management at a German-based university for over two years before enrolling for a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). The MBA was also offered online,” Muyoboko noted.
Muyoboko is seemingly proud of his achievement and doesn’t regret his decision.
“Online education does not only cater for everyone regardless of their schedule but is also cost effective,” Muyoboko notes.
He says he had never found it hard to juggle between studies and work since his classes were always scheduled in the evening, adding that he always had time to attend to his bookshop.
“Online education is convenient for students for it enables them to hand in assignments from wherever they are. They don’t have to submit in their homework physically which may not be convenient for most students,” says Diane Uwimana, a student of information technology at Mount Kenya University.
She praises online education, arguing that it offers learners a wide range of courses and universities to choose from — including those that are far from their area of reach.
“Flexibility is also assured when it comes to online classes. Students who have other commitments such as work or family emergencies can always find time to study unlike the usual classroom settings where one would heve to forfeit one of the activities,” Uwimana adds.
According to Joseph Ngezi Lune, the academic information technology co-ordinator for electronic systems under the University of Rwanda(UR) College of Medicine and Health Sciences, the programme enables students to interact with people even across borders since the system does not have boundaries .
“It also allows students to study at their own pace through open scheduling which allows professionals to continue their careers as well as work towards completing their studies without being rushed,” Ngezi notes, adding that online education eliminates the aspect of commuting which helps the student save time and money on transport.
Ngezi also explains that online education favours shy students who may not be able to walk up to the instructor to seek clarification.
“Because there is no face-to-face contact, a nervous student can gain the confidence to ask the instructor any questions and be assured of getting the answers as soon as possible,” Ngezi notes.
He adds that this system also enables students to access top notch professors and guest lecturers from around the world. This, Ngezi says, gives them exposure to concepts beyond the ordinary classroom approach.
According to Augastine Rwamucyo, a retired lecturer who lives in Kanombe, online education gives students
an opportunity to study in foreign institutions, but still receive courseworks and assignments from the comfort of their sofas.
He, however, warns that this system has its short comings.
He says this system is discriminative since it only caters for students who do not have good computer or Internet skills.
“Some online courses may not be recognised by some education institutions in the country and employers meaning you cannot upgrade or be employed,” Rwamucyo warns.
He also argues that online education kills social interaction, adding that some students may feel lonely and miss personal interactions with peers that make up so much of the conventional college experience.
“Although many web-based education programmes actually do face-to-face interactions through video conferencing, they cannot be compared to physical interaction in a classroom interaction,” Rwamucyo observes.
According to Alpha Mutabazi, the proprietor of Prism, an Information Technology consultacy in Kimironko, the system doesn’t favour the lazy students who will find it difficult to get in touch with their lecturer to explain why they delayed to hand in their course work or assignment. .
“The system has complete lack of supervision. In other words, if a person is not motivated to finish what they have started, they can simply walk away empty-handed,” Mutabazi noted.
He further notes that practical courses that are hands-on or need laboratory practicals may be hard to find online leaving a student with only an option of taking a course at a local college campus. This, Mutabazi says, may deny someone a chance to study from top universities.
Ngezi also echoes a similar warning saying it is important to strike a balance between online education and the traditional classroom-kind of teaching as it ensures quality control.
“The physical interaction between a student and a lecturer should be kept, as it is believed that the knowledge is better shared or imparted,” Ngezi advises.
Mariat Uwineza, a PhD holder in public administration who has attended lessons physically all her school life, still prefers the classroom setting.
“Having numerous students learning in the same classroom has the benefit of allowing students to exchange ideas and questions with one another. This provides another valuable learning medium that online environments cannot duplicate.”
She adds that its difficult to conduct classes such as speech, drama and debate that require the student to make oral presentations in front of a group of people.
“A student therefore wishing to improve their oral communication skills may have no other option but settle for the traditional classroom course,” she notes.
Employer, government stand
Vesto Karimba, the managing director of Depa Communications, a prominent public relations firm based in Kigali, says that online studying is only good for post-graduate studies.
“Most of our staff have sought further studies on line and we noticed that this has improved their efficiency and productivity over time. However, we never recruit those who have attained their first degrees online.”
According to Evode Mukama, the head of ICT in Education at the Rwanda Education Board(REB), cheating of exams is impossible in the local setting since only lectures are offered online, and that tests and exams are done in a physical class, under strict supervision.
“We also do not give chance to imposter-lecturers or students, since every genuine lecturer and student is armed with passwords for their respective accounts,”he notes.
Your views on online education
Winnie Rwija, a banker
As a banker, online classes are the ideal classes for me because they allow you have your classes at the time of your convenience. It would be hard to further my education in the normal classroom setting with my busy schedule.
Solomon Ruyonga, a journalist
Online classes are what I focus on because I get to meet top notch professors from all over the world at a relatively cheaper cost than going to a top class university in the country.
Tito Natamba, a lecturer
I prefer having my students in a classroom setting because I get to interact and engage them in different activities to see how well they respond which is not the same case with online classes that basically leave everything in the hands of the student.
Jean Gatera, a teacher
The classroom setting is still credible enough to empower students with an enlightened future because it gives them the opportunity to interact and develop their oral communication skills which are vital at all places of work.
James Kato, a producer
The classroom setting is perfect for practical courses because there is always on-hands training for everyone; even the slow learners are not left behind. Online classes, however, are complicated because when you miss a lesson you have no one to consult.