Monday, February 07, 2011

NYT: "Online Courses, Still Lacking That Third Dimension"

"Online Courses, Still Lacking That Third Dimension" (at the New York Times) considers the question of online courses with a fair amount of balance. Again, for the record: I am not categorically opposed to online courses and in fact teach some. I am opposed to approaches that don't consider their strengths and weaknesses.

Some thoughts:

1. Bill Gates wants "at least one great course online for each subject rather than lots of mediocre courses."

Who decides, Bill, and what are the standards? Video lectures by dynamic Ivy League lecturers? Interactive razzamatazz? How does the value of "great" comport with student (and administrator) pressure to make courses easier? Or wouldn't this be a concern since without teachers who have to fear being fired because of the immortal "course was to hard" and "to much writting" comments on evaluations, the course content would be immune from being watered down?

2. Food for thought: Like M.I.T., Carnegie Mellon has worked hard to make its courses available for free on the web, a laudable goal, if an expensive one. These are "automated courses" without instructors. CM doesn't give credit itself for these courses but will send completed student materials to another institution so that that institution can give credit.

Maybe this works well for science courses; I can't judge. But the message is that automated courses are good enough for other schools, but not good enough for Carnegie Mellon, which prefers, as the article puts it "humanoid instructors."

3. I think this person is onto something:
Wendy Brown, the Heller professor of political science at the Berkeley campus, spoke witheringly of the idea at a campus forum in October: “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?”
4. Why is it that people seem keen to get 3-D on their television sets despite the funny glasses but would rather go 2-D when it comes to education?


Earnest English said...

Dude -- what is _that_ comment about?

Can I just say, who cares what Bill Gates wants in a course? He didn't even bother to finish college. Just because the man is hugely successful does NOT make him an expert on education! He is, however, an expert on creating a near-monopoly situation in his industry, buying out and beating down his competition at every turn. What if we see his desire for one online course over a diversity of courses in the context of his megalith monopolizing near-totalitarian business posture?

undine said...

EE, that other comment was spam, so I deleted it.

Bill Gates may not need college, but most people who want an education are not Bill Gates. He doesn't seem to understand that.

Historiann said...

Earnest English is spot-on. Gates is just another would-be educrat with zero experience with education. Thanks for letting me know that you posted on this subject, Undine.

Let's see if Bill Gates is happy to have his children, when they reach college age, plunk themselves down in front of a computer for an "automated" online education. Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen.