Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb
baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form
. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not
intended for publication.
Letter of the Week: Internet Ground School a Mistake
Your remember yours. I remember mine. Every pilot remembers ground school.
Mine was in a dingy and dark corner of the low-rent district of our Florida airport. The three-classroom facility smelled like stale coffee and mildew. The air conditioning worked fine; at least when the owner the Part 141 pilot school felt like turning it on. There is nothing like sweating over a whiz wheel.
This familiar scene could, however, become a thing of the past. The FAA is considering requests by several "on-line" universities. They want to offer Internet-based flight training. Students would satisfy the ground school requirement by logging into their computers, grabbing a beverage, and "attending" on-line classes.
As an aviation attorney and college professor, I do not buy into the hype surrounding Internet education. I never have. Online education is not effective. It is unsupervised. It lacks the give and take among students and instructors that makes a classroom environment successful.
Also absent from online classes is confrontation. A classroom environment should put students on the spot. They must be required to defend their positions, the facts they believe, and their views on issues. Instructors should be able to engage them, to question them, and to confront them when appropriate. The flight deck is not a passive, docile, and forgiving place. Nor should be the classroom.
Kent Grayson, CFII, ATP, and the dean of Morton Aeronautical University agrees. Despite the excellent revenue potential of online flight training, Mr. Grayson said his institution will not consideri it. "Flight training needs personal interaction between the student pilot and instructor," he says.
"Our purpose is not just to impart facts and figures. The job of the institution is to build a student pilot's confidence and character. This is not an easy job and we are not willing to entrust it to impersonal and unsupervised online classes," Mr. Grayson said. Dean Grayson specifically mentioned lessons relating to flight planning, critical thinking, aviation weather, emergency procedures, and go-no-go decision-making. "These do not lend themselves to an online format. These areas deserve narrative, discussion, personal context from the instructor, and a hands-on approach."
Indeed, if your flight training experience was anything like mine, you probably learned as much from your CFI's war stories and bull sessions as during formal study. Internet-based ground school students will miss a lot of that.
As a college professor myself (I teach contract law at Holmes College), I am very sour on Internet-based programs and curricula. Online education has not lived up to its billing. Such programs usually attract the lowest quality instructors. And it should therefore be no surprise that they attract the least qualified and least ambitious students; ones not willing to dedicate the necessary amount of time or money to a proper educational experience.
The FAA is accepting comments on this proposal until November 30, 2009. You can send the FAA your comments by logging into Regulations.gov. You will need to enter the docket number for the proposal:
J. Christopher Robbins