From the front page of today’s New York Times.

… Is it possible to learn as much when your professor is a mass of pixels whom you never meet? How much of a student’s education and growth — academic and personal — depends on face-to-face contact with instructors and fellow students?

… Kaitlyn Hartsock, a senior psychology major at [the University of] Florida, [said], “My mom was really upset about it. She felt like she’s paying for me to go to college and not sit at home and watch through a computer.”

… [Ms. Hartsock, a] hard-working student who maintains an A average, she was frustrated by the online format. Other members of her discussion group were not pulling their weight, she said. The one test so far, online, required answering five questions in 10 minutes — a lightning round meant to prevent cheating by Googling answers.

In a conventional class, “I’m someone who sits toward the front and shares my thoughts with the teacher,” she said. In the 10 or so online courses she has taken in her four years, “it’s all the same,” she said. “No comments. No feedback. And the grades are always late.”

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10 Responses to “Online: The Poor White Trash of Education”

  1. Jeff Says:

    If this is true, “‘I’m someone who sits toward the front and shares my thoughts with the teacher,'” then she should be smart enough to know, especially after TEN (TEN!) online courses that they are a waste of time/money.

  2. francofou Says:

    In some disciplines, portions of some courses lend themselves well to online treatment. I’m thinking for example of practice and review in mathematics, spread sheets in statistics, certain formulaic elements of foreign languages, etc. Online work in such areas allows students to work at their own pace and at times of their choosing. It also can save valuable class time.
    To go beyond that, however — when active student participation in a class is called for — is to open the door to the obvious abuses you often criticize.
    One can understand why administrators, for whom the financial advantages are obvious, turn a blind eye to what actually goes on in classes.
    For abuses to be widespread, however, the complicity of the faculty in general is required. In this area, as in others, the failure of the faculty to demand professional integrity of themselves and their colleagues is an important factor in the degradation of higher education.
    While I agree with what you say, I think you don’t insist enough on faculty (ir)responsibility in your coverage of online learning, athletics, etc. You do well to highlight the blatant illegality/dishonesty of some individual faculty members (in medical research, for instance), but it seems to me that you go too easy on the grey mass of the nameless faculty accomplices in all of these scandals.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    francofou: I think you’re right about my failure to pick on faculty. I’m not sure why I don’t — except maybe for the obvious reason that I don’t like to attack the home team. I’ll try to correct this.

  4. Bill Gleason Says:

    Coming soon, to the University of California:

    “The University of California has begun to ask faculty to design and teach online courses for a pilot program that could pave the way for widespread Web offerings at the state’s most-selective public institutions.”

    Today’s Chronicle. Read it and weep….

  5. francofou Says:

    They should say no unless the administration can demonstrate convincingly enough to get approval from the faculty *as a whole* why a given online course has more educational advantages than a normal course.

  6. francofou Says:

    UD, the entrepreneurial spirit of individuals on the home team, thanks in large part to the skewed reward system, is what is driving us into the ground.

  7. EB Says:

    On-line is great for situations where distance presents an otherwide-insurmountable barrier. It’s even better when the motivation level of students is high (as in when they have a real need to learn the course content). And it’s best of all when the students are working in a common field and bring knowledge and experience to the table themselves. I have taken (and taught) such classes, but I’m well aware that the above conditions don’t describe the vast majority of on-line courses.

  8. Online Learner Says:

    As a primarily online learner, I would like to defend what is seen as a “white trash education”. I am married, work full-time and attend college part-time in a business program. Education is going to be what you make it from beginning to end. Primary and secondary schools will provide students the opportunity to excel, coast, or waste life in a desk. Online learning is similar. A student can study, learn, and show it in their work… Or they can sit around, blow off reading, and cheat. This happens in BOTH educational environments and I know because I completed 50% of my degree in a traditional classroom and 50% in an online forum. There are a handful of online schools that will actually challenge the learner and benefit in the long run for learning how to manage life. I will have over five years of financial industry work with progressive managerial experience under my belt when I complete my degree. Who would you want to hire? Someone who knows how life and the corporate world works as it relates to their education or someone who sat in a classroom and completed an internship because they had to in order to receive their diploma with no work experience? Let’s be fair to those who actually care about their education and only have the option of online learning because mom and dad don’t pay the way…

  9. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Online Learner: Thank you very much for the thoughtful comment. I think that if I were hiring, I would prefer someone who had four years of experience with other people – professors, students – in classrooms devoted to the liberal arts. I would know that that person could read, write, and analyze things on a pretty high level; and that that person had a grounding in general culture and could therefore talk to our clients with confidence and knowledge. Not merely knowledge of business nut and bolts – that’s what an MBA or other graduate program is for – but knowledge of the world. Many businesses these days are international in orientation in one way or another, and I’d want my corporate executives to have worldly knowledge. I would also want to hire someone who has been intellectually challenged – in an ongoing, disciplined, and real-world way – to argue ideas and viewpoints. No online education can yield the sort of person I have in mind, because no online education can take a student away from the narrowness and isolation of the world of the screen, and put her in the social and mental world of the college classroom.

  10. Online Learner Says:

    Margaret: I would like to argue the case that many online learners can possess the type of knowledge you are seeking. I have had the interaction you would seek through my online education via online meetings and educational work projects. The education I have received in an online environment requires outside projects to study current culture in many different avenues including politics, social issues and educational trends – not just business nuts and bolts. I can recite the words of Plato or Shakespeare if that is one of your requirements and much of that education came out of my online experience. While I agree that some online programs will commit the worst crime in education, not educating, I do believe that every employer, teacher and anyone prospecting someone for their specific purposes should not solely focus on where the person’s degree came from or how he or she achieved that accomplishment. This narrow view of online learning is harmful to higher education and shows a lack of willingness to adopt the technological advances that have come about and altered the educational experience. To assume an online education infers isolation is a far cry from what reality truly is for online learning. College is the time to learn the liberal arts, cultural history and practical skills for the workforce, in my opinion. What good would I be to my employer if I can quote Adam Smith, but not apply what he had to say about economics because there was only a focus on theory? Base knowledge of the liberal arts and technical skills should both be drivers in a post-secondary education curriculum. For example, I think studying philosophy should be a basic requirement in every program, which it is at my university, but so are practical courses like finance, accounting and cultural anthropology. I’ve been in both worlds of higher ed learning environments and I firmly believe much of the educational value is based on what the student puts into the equation.

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