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July 31, 2012

"The Trouble With Online Education"

Professor of English at UVa argues that online courses aren't--and never will be--good substitutes for in-person courses. 

A truly memorable college class, even a large one, is a collaboration between teacher and students. It’s a one-time-only event. Learning at its best is a collective enterprise, something we’ve known since Socrates. You can get knowledge from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning. A real course creates intellectual joy, at least in some. I don’t think an Internet course ever will. Internet learning promises to make intellectual life more sterile and abstract than it already is — and also, for teachers and for students alike, far more lonely.

I disagree in part. I think online courses can be a very good substitute for classes enrolling 300 or 400 students in a big auditorium with a professor flipping through PowerPoints. More cost- and time-efficient with little or no loss of quality. But if the professor is asking the students to think and not just memorize, online courses will probably not be as good. But I suspect fewer and fewer such courses are being offered. 

There is hope for effective education, though. This sounds like one promising start: "Schools That Work, Literally". 


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The UVA professor seems not to be familiar with "chalk & talk." I've seen plenty of monologue-type courses in the classroom. Moreover, newer, "synchronous" online ed courses can be just as interactive as small classroom seminars.

That said, what I also see is that University administration tends to prefer the lower-cost, mass-produced "asynchronous" online courses.


Guess Edmundson never read this:


>> "I disagree in part"

Me, too. Many classes would be fine with online learning, imho. But there are some that just won't work that way. A martial arts class might be a good example. ;-)


Replace all ineffective classes - giant classes (anything over 50 really) or the "chalk and talk" problem mentioned by others.

What could result is a student being able to complete say the 1st 2 yrs of a 4yr degree in online fashion with the same quality. If enough of this happens, perhaps that then becomes the new standard, even evolving to "standard online years" for a variety of common degrees. And here I mean truly standard, across all schools. Does Calculus I really need to be taught by over 300 professors in the US each and every semester/quarter?

Which should make professor employment and college admissions a whole lot more interesting.

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