Online schooling is increasingly popular, and two Iowa school districts will offer online classes beginning next year, a move Governor Terry Branstad supports. Additionally, more and more universities are offering online or distance courses to their students. This semester alone, Iowa State has offered dozens of online courses to choose from.

Whether the educational institution is primary, secondary or post-secondary is irrelevant. We are concerned that, even as the companies offering the online courses for the two school districts must still “[hire] teachers who are licensed in their subject areas, [administer] standardized tests in the same way that is done in traditional schools and [have] a curriculum that meets state standards,” the students exposed to the online education will miss something.

Even as we are told to enjoy our adventure at Iowa State, a large part of the educational activity at this university takes place in the homes of students many miles away. That is neither an adventure nor at Iowa State. Education is not about merely answering all the exam questions correctly and receiving a piece of paper with your name and “B.A.,” or something similar on it.

The Iowa State slogan is spot-on: there is an adventure to be had in learning from the faculty of Iowa State. While Internet-based learning holds promise where efficiency and building an individualized curriculum are concerned, the absence of tangible face to face time with teachers, peers, and the culture of an educational institution denies students an important element of their socialization.

Consider three of the things Iowa State touts on its admissions webpage as reasons to earn a degree here: “A welcoming environment, top-notch academic programs and endless extracurricular programs.” The inability of distance students to experience and inhale the truly beautiful campus of Iowa State goes without saying. In our view, they may even be missing out on the university’s greatest asset.

How many of the 829 listed student organizations can you participate in meaningfully, so that you leave an impact on them and your fellow members, or learn from participating in, if you do not actually attend school here? As far as academic programs go, few of them are offered online — or distance-only. 

Education is about rote memorization and recitation — or regurgitation, if you prefer a more vivid image — of facts. But it is just as much about interacting with other students, scholars who are extensively acquainted with the world and staff who have worked in departments such as the dining centers or libraries for so long that everyone thinks of them as another parent or grandparent.

Learning in isolation, even if it is with the best technology, is insufficient.

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