Feature

Are online classes an effective way to teach psychology? Yes, reported Jeffrey Stowell, PhD, a psychology professor at Eastern Illinois University. His online and in-class students do equally well on tests, he said at APA's National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology, in Tacoma, Wash., June 22–27.

What's more, advances in online education allow online students to interact and collaborate on class projects, Stowell said.

Taking advantage of such advances is important, noted Art Kohn, PhD, of Portland State University, given the relentless growth of Internet-based courses. "It's inevitable," he said. "Online courses, for better or worse, are the direction of the future."

Noting the large size and impersonal nature of psychology courses at some institutions, Kohn added that online courses can actually be more interactive than many real-world classes.

Kohn and Stowell supported the idea that students can get a high-quality education online that's comparable to in-class instruction. That question was one of two topics formally debated by three-member teams of psychology faculty before an audience of fellow conference participants.

William Addison, PhD, a psychology professor and psychology department chair at Eastern Illinois University, disagreed. Online professors miss out on student's nonverbal cues such as a head nods, questioning looks and blank stares, which tell him whether his students are getting it or not, he noted.

What's more, by living and studying at an institution and interacting with their peers in academic and social settings, students gain knowledge, and they also get a chance to figure out who they are-interactions that aren't possible in online courses, said Meera Komarraju, PhD, a psychology professor at Southern Illinois University. Students at traditional campuses learn to live with others and gain leadership skills by attending a traditional college, added Mary Kite, PhD, of Ball State University. "All those things are part of college that you can't get online," she said.

During the question-and-answer segment of the debate, Mukul Bhalla, PhD, of Argosy University's Washington, D.C., campus, noted that traditional colleges aren't always practical for some students, especially those who have full-time jobs and families.

"They're not looking for bonding, they're not looking for friends, they're looking for an education," she said.

Given the constant pressure from administrators for expanded online offerings, Bhalla appealed to the group for guidelines for how to best deliver online instruction-practices she could use to lobby administrators for more resources to improve online instruction.

"We need your support to do the right thing," she said.

-C. Munsey