Excerpts from Online Education: You Get What You Pay For, by Brian Fogarty in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

… Academe, the established nonprofit colleges — public and private — are being forced into competition with the fast-degree industry. Their response has been to adopt a corporate-style business model: On the one hand, cut costs by increasing class sizes and hiring more part-time faculty; on the other, grow and diversify in order to weather ups and downs in the supply of new students.

The problem is that the first option reduces quality, while the second incurs new marketing and administrative costs.

… The rush to market cheap and easy education threatens to gut [the] upper-middle range of institutions and create a two-tiered system of higher education. Many of America’s quality, nonelite colleges and universities will be pressured by competition to offer more and more prepackaged curricula, “managed” by de-skilled and part-time faculty, to appease consumer demand for cheaper and faster diplomas.

A few students will still go to the elite schools — enjoying real interaction with real professors — while the rest are consigned to the discount bin.

… A student taking classes online is immersed in a whirl of distractions — the gong of arriving e-mail, instant messaging, Facebook updates, online games and all the rest. The problem with i-College is that it fails to provide the one thing that a genuine college experience offers: an environment completely dedicated, if only for short periods at a time, to the world of ideas and the process of learning…

Here Fogarty isolates the specific nature of the thing we call a college or a university: It is a world apart, an entire intellectual environment — a location Bartlett Giamatti called a free and ordered space.

The university is free in that it is committed to free inquiry, free social engagement, free personal exploration; it wants to give young people scope to be reflective and daring and changed. But it is also ordered in that the campus is a physically constrained, historically established, and rule-bound place. You enter its gates — real or metaphorical (Even urban campuses like UD‘s GW, or like NYU, have a university presence of their own that sets them apart from the city around them.) — and you enter an institution with rituals, traditions, established moral and intellectual commitments…

Above all, the university stages, every day, the life of the mind. In the classroom, it offers difficult and rewarding and disciplined inquiry as a possible model for one’s life. The university wants to seduce you into its world, wants to appeal to your seriousness.

Although your professors wish you well, they are not thinking, as they engage you in their classrooms, about what job you’re going to get when you graduate. They are thinking about lighting a fire under your ass about a certain subject matter. They scan your faces, they ask you leading questions, in order to see whether there’s any smoke coming out of you.

Did you read any of Tony Judt’s obits? If a student of his missed one class — just one class — Judt sent the student a hectoring email. Get back in here! I want to see you every day! I’m giving you my all. You give me your all.

Sure, the university is a free space. You’re free to do many things, and the university wants you to have that freedom, because ideally your four years will turn out to have been a lasting synthesis of free thought and free social engagement. But under that experimental looseness lies the deadly serious ethos of real education, an ethos embodied by Judt’s insistence on your full presence in the world of the mind, your simple, committed being there. Those love notes from Judt meant that he needed you — needed your physical presence to share a space with his, needed the dialectic of his mind and yours, the clash of your ages, temperaments, cynicisms, personal histories, suspicions, hostilities, passions, all of it, you’ve got to bring it. It doesn’t work without you.

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5 Responses to “Being there.”

  1. GTWMA Says:

    I am SO stealing some of this for my intro class.

    Well said.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Thanks, GTWMA.

  3. Bill Gleason Says:

    Unfortunately, iCollege is very much on the minds of academics in Minnesota ever since our absentee governor touted it as a way to save a lot of money, i.e. $99 courses. Unfortunately, Mr. Bill Gates is now singing the same song. Those who have the gold, make the rules? Bill Gates: “In Five Years The Best Education Will Come From The Web.” http://tcrn.ch/b2w1gn

    (I know, he once said OS/2 was the greatest operating system ever and would take over the world, etc., etc.)

  4. david foster Says:

    Someone should ask Bill why Microsoft still has *office buildings*…almost everything they do is nonphysical and could in theory be done from employees’ homes, just like on-line education.

  5. Bill Gleason Says:

    There’s a funny comment from one “Dr. Diane Hamilton” on the original Fogarty post in the Strib.

    Online Education is the Future

    I understand your concerns about online education. However, I have to disagree with your comments about the quality of this form of education. I received one of my three degrees through online education and I currently teach bachelor-, master- and doctoral-level courses for 6 online universities. I learned more through my online courses I took than anything I learned at the traditional university. I think it can be a personal preference for how information is obtained. The millennial and younger generations have a technology-based expectation for learning. As long as the university is accredited, I think that online education may be a better choice for many people who need flexibility in their learning or want a quality education delivered in a modern format. Diane Hamilton, PhD

    note the last sentence…

    Here’s Dr. Hamilton’s (apparent) website: http://www.drdianehamilton.com/

    Her PhD is in business. Thesis topic: How emotional intelligence impacts sales performance

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