Alḥamdulillāh, it is now almost a year since I began teaching online for the Islamic Online University, and its been three years since I began studying through it. So I thought I would share some of my experiences in the field of online education, as this is increasingly becoming a common method of teaching and studying Islam. Before I do so, I think it is best to explain exactly what I do online.
I serve as a Tutorial Assistant for Aqeedah, Arabic and the history of Fiqh in the BAIS (Bachelor of Arts in Islamic Studies) program on the Islamic Online University. My job entails replying to email questions, forum posts and teaching weekly live online classes using the WiZiQ virtual classroom. It is actually a very enjoyable job to teach hundreds of students around the world through my computer and here are some of my reflections on this interesting concept on online education:
1. One of the main points raised against Online Islamic Education is that one is not sitting with a teacher, which is the traditional method of studying Islam. Some people point out that this is dangerous as to truly understand Islam, one needs to study it under authentic teachers. I believe this is true if someone is self-studying online without guidance, i.e. if a person is just taking articles and lectures from a variety of random websites then presenting themselves as authorities of Islamic knowledge.
However an online university like Knowledge International University or the IOU offered structured online courses under the guidance of scholars. It is for this reason that I feel the above problem does not apply to it.
2. Another issue with online education is that it requires a lot of self-motivation as you are not in a physical class with other students and a teacher who can motivate you to study harder and notice if you are lagging behind or not paying attention. The plus side of this is that only those who are truly interested and dedicated will see the course through and this in return will produce better quality students of knowledge.
3. Something I noticed with online education is that in a virtual classroom it is difficult to know if the students are paying attention. All you see are their usernames on the screen, so aside from those who constantly ask questions, there is possibility that some people might just be showing online while playing The Sims or surfing the web, but of course as Muslims we should always think the best of everyone. Yet this is something I prefer about teaching in person, in that I can immediately tell when my students are day dreaming or not paying attention, while this is not possible with the current online system. Once again it comes down to self-motivation and dedication.
4. When studying in person, I notice a lot people begin to judge each other and force each other to become pious at, at times, a too quick pace. So you will find people putting on a false image in order not to be judged. When studying online, you become responsible for your own implementation of knowledge and as a result the change comes gradually and based on knowledge, not wanting to fit in.
5. My favorite part of teaching online is that I have hundreds of students around the world without having to leave my home. Many of my friends who travel internationally to teach Islam find it difficult being away from their wife (or wives in some of their cases) and children for extended periods of time. Some feel that they are neglecting their children in order to teach Islam to others, and sometimes this leads to them looking for a job closer to home or one which requires less travel. Alḥamdulillāh, through online education, I too have students around the world but everyday I spend time with my wife and kids as I don't even have to leave my home. To me, this is one of my favorite things about online teaching, although I love to travel and see the world but now when I do travel it is never something I feel guilty about.
So for me, there are many benefits of online education, and a few problems which could be resolved as we develop better programs and technology. I know that many sisters love the online system as it allows them to study without leaving their homes, while many others find it suits their lifestyle in that they don't have to give up their job in order to study.
I know many people these days are involved in different forms of Online teaching or studying, whether it is self-study, live online, Islamic or academic, I would like to hear your experiences and what you feel are the Pros and Cons of using the internet for education.