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When classrooms disappear

Randall Stross, in the New York Times, talks online university education:

Candace Thille, the director of Carnegie Mellon’s [Online Learning Initiative], put it this way: “There is something motivating about the student’s relationship with the instructor — and with the student’s relationship with other students in the class — that would be absent if each took the course in a software-only environment.”

Those relationships — with humans in the flesh — help students to persevere. Online courses are notorious for high dropout rates.

And people are racing to put high school educations online! With their greater maturity, high school students will certainly do even better than university students at online education.

Stross points out that if your choice is a humongous statistics lecture course or an online statistics course (whose air traffic controller almost certainly will be handling more students than the in-class lecturer), you might as well go online (likely to be a trash course either way).

But in [the] case [of statistics], the subject matter is distillable into a handful of concepts, and the exams use questions with only a single correct answer. That’s not an option for just about all of the humanities and vast swaths of the social sciences.

Stross concludes by quoting Berkeley’s Wendy Brown:

“What is sacrificed when classrooms disappear, the place where good teachers do not merely ‘deliver content’ to students but wake them up, throw them on their feet and pull the chair away? Where ideas can become intoxicating, where an instructor’s ardor for a subject or a dimension of the world can be contagious? Where scientific, literary, ethical or political passions are ignited?”

If your answer is that most Americans don’t care about this sort of education, and just want to get a job, then go to it. Clean up Kaplan and the other shady operators and give America respectable online vocational institutions.

True, some of our universities are already purely vocational – or they’re well on their way toward being purely vocational. They should (UD has predicted that many eventually will) shut down their physical campuses and join the vocational onlines. But some universities are real universities of the sort Brown describes. Leave them alone.

Margaret Soltan, February 6, 2011 5:13AM
Posted in: CLICK-THRU U.

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One Response to “When classrooms disappear”

  1. superdestroyer Says:

    Few college educated Americans have had college instructors who did anything other than deliver content and most Americans have had many college instructors who were not even able to deliver content in a competent manner.

    The trade off is not between an ivy covered elite university and on-line courses but between those on-line courses and driving to a commuter school or attending a directional state university where they sit in a large lecture hall and watch the instructor reading the PowerPoint slides to them.

    Anyone who is attending a commuter school or directional state university has to be oriented toward career training and has no chance of entering a log-normal career field such as being an academic. The log-normal career fields are only for the ivy covered university graduates.

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