Trending now: Online ed bashing

And the online ed bash-fest continues, but it has a hard time finding traction when confronted with real-life results and with an informed readership. Either the LA Times audience is radically different than that of the Chronicle of Higher Education or there is a shift in the air. Probably a bit of both.

In his latest column, Michael Hiltzik of the LATimes, writes about the “Perils of online college learning” in the business section of the paper. He doesn’t so much write about it as rail against it. His argument is one we have heard many times before – online education is not education and the profit motives of providers of online courses preclude any positive outcomes. He starts his column by invoking San José State’s recent decision to suspend its online programs.

The column itself is therefore barely interesting – but what is amazing are the comments. Here are some examples:

“A class, online or not, is only as good as the professor teaching it.  I’ve taken online courses through SMC and through Coursera – the SMC class was a joke, a rehashing of a class syllabus that must have been from 1965 (not kidding).  But the Coursera courses, one through Duke and one through Brown, have both been very interesting and I have finished the complete coursework for both.”

“How many of those who dropped out wouldn’t have done so if they’d been on campus, attending class? ”

“Not everyone is a gifted teacher, even a gifted internet teacher. But Sebastian Thrun had 160,000 students in his Stanford artificial intelligence course and without charging those “University of Phoenix” fees.”

“I’m learning linear algebra from Khan Academy–the lecturer is just as good as any math professor I ever had.”

“Every innovation that challenges the status quo gets derided.  Online learning is an effective way of obtaining an affordable education.”

And it goes on – only a few comments are in defense of traditional education, everyone else defends the innovation. These commentators accept that online ed can and will improve, but they are also very clear that traditional education is not without its problem, and that online classes are much more than just a practical delivery mechanism.

I wish Hiltzik had read the excellent 2-part article by Sean Michael Morris “Decoding Digital Pedagogy“. There is so much more to teaching online than putting content online – and the failure to understand that is one of the enormous blind spots of critics of the online education medium.



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