She took it-online!

WARNING:  Rant dead ahead.  Proceed a vos risques.

Didja hear?  Online courses have higher dropout and failure rates.  From yesterday’s Inside Higher Ed:

[A] new study urges caution to those who believe that online education is a panacea for educating more community college students. The study finds that students who enrolled in online courses — controlling for various factors that tend to predict success — were more likely to fail or drop out of the courses than were those who took the same courses in person. Notably, there was not a gap in completion between those enrolled in hybrid and in-person courses.

Further, the students who took online courses early in their community college careers were slightly but statistically significantly less likely than were other students to come back for subsequent terms. And students who took higher shares of coursework online than did their peers were slightly but statistically significantly less likely either to finish a degree or certificate or to transfer to a four-year institution.

The study was by Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College of Columbia University. Their analysis is based on a large cohort — the 51,000 students who entered community and technical colleges in Washington State in 2004. And the study is similar to one on students in Virginia, adding to the researchers’ belief that the trends are real and potentially troublesome in that increasing numbers of community college students are enrolling online.

I’ll wager that if someone repeats this study at four-year colleges ze’ll get pretty much the same results.  It seems so obvious to anyone who has ever taught a class–and I’m sure to pretty much anyone who has some functional memory of their college years.  The mission of community colleges is to serve students who may not have had the background in high school to leap into a 4-year degree program.  Many universities market online courses as easy–and fun!–to do while working full time and/or raising children.  (I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on your local buses, subways, and in airports, as well as on the teevee.)  So, less prepared students + marketing the idea of post-secondary study as fun and easy to do in your spare time = tuition scam-a-lama-ding-dong.  Awesome!  It’s so unethical it makes me grind my teeth until my molars ache.

This tracks with the experience of a friend of mine who teaches at another local university, a university that doesn’t pay her enough to cover her research expenses, research expenses that she must incur if she wants to be tenured in the job that doesn’t pay her enough to cover her research expenses.  In her online intro class to her discipline this sumer, five out of 25 students plagiarized an assignment from the same goddamn Wikipedia article, and therefore will receive Fs all round.  That’s a minimum 20% failure rate right there–suck it, grade inflation trolls!  Now, I guess you could say that it’s just bad luck for those students that there were four other students just as lazy and/or unethical as they are.  My friend is pretty sure that her failure rates are so much higher than in her regular classes because her to her online students, she’s just a flickering image in a digitally recorded lecture, just an automoton who grades their papers and answers e-mail.   

I haven’t done a double-blind peer-reviewed study of her hypothesis, but it sounds about right to me.  I think it makes a difference when students know there’s a real live professor who knows their name and who will call them out if they miss an assignment, or cheat, or screw up otherwise.  I think it matters that those of us who teach at large public universities can counsel them in person about how to “do” college successfully.  I think it makes a difference that I can get up in their grills and hold them accountable for their work.  I think it’s pretty clear that online courses are trashing whatever brand is left between public universities with even minimal admissions standards and standards for faculty and student integrity, and private, for-profit degree mills.  (Have you been reading Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk on online courses?  Friends, here’s where a labor historian comes in super-handy!  Whose side are you on?)

Make my day!

I’ll consider teaching online courses once Harvard, Yale, and Princeton offer online courses taught by Jill Lepore, Joanne Meyerowitz, and Tony Grafton.  (Watch while I hold my breath and turn blue waiting for that to happen!)  Now, I’m not saying that I’m all that–I’m not completely delusional.  I’m just saying that I ain’t the University of Bloody Phoenix either.

Now, who’s up for a little fun?  They say you can’t get a man with a gun, but you can pop a cap in the a$$ of pretty much anyone else bugs ya.  Try it!  Online, of course.  (Just aim away from the bitchin’ Camaro on the lawn.)

42 thoughts on “Surprise!

  1. Learning is hard work as anyone who’s recently learned a skill like bicycling or knitting knows. Learning to a standard set by others is even more difficult. I don’t think that students know we’ll call them out that much better when it’s in the physical classroom, but you have all of those class meetings wherein you can hope to reinforce the lessons and requirements of the course.

    I still get far too many students in the physical classroom who blithely ignore my warnings that this is hard work and they need to put time into the process. But online, it’s much easier to ignore that virtual demand. You have to be incredibly disciplined to succeed at distance education.

    I consider it a truly evil behaviour on the part of colleges and universities to suggest that online courses are an easy alternative. They’re not: they’re the tough road to an education.


  2. As somebody who does teach online sometimes, I’ll chime in that this study does sound about right to me, though I would also say that students have to be held accountable for their performance in online courses as much as instructors need to be held accountable for student success, and as much as institutions need to be held accountable for the standards they put forth for courses in *any* medium.

    One of the factors that I really see in play in my online courses is the fact that students who enroll often aren’t committed to being in school – i.e., those students would flunk out, stop out, or drop out even if all of their classes were F2F. What the online medium does is it produces a critical mass of those students in one observable space, whereas those students are spread all over the university and across many, many more sections in F2F formats. There are ways to engage students online, and to be more than a flickering digital image and disembodied grader to them, but those take two things: ample technical support, and ample course development support with instructional designers trained in online delivery methods. And smaller class sizes don’t hurt either. In other words, they take budgetary investment on the part of universities. For me, that is the absolute biggest issue with the failure or success of online offerings.

    I do sort of feel like saying “until the fancy names at the Ivies do it I won’t either” isn’t the most compelling argument – any of us who aren’t fancy names at ivies are in teaching situations in face-to-face classrooms that those people never find themselves in either.


  3. “I do sort of feel like saying “until the fancy names at the Ivies do it I won’t either” isn’t the most compelling argument – any of us who aren’t fancy names at ivies are in teaching situations in face-to-face classrooms that those people never find themselves in either.”

    But the *way* we run our F2F classes is essentially the same, I’ll wager. That to me is one of the most hopeful things about the democratic origins of the American “system” of higher education: at its best, it offers the same high-quality instruction to all comers. Online education is furthering the class and status divide between the fancy schools and the public universities. That’s why I say that when everyone is doing it, I’ll take a look. But my contention here is that elite schools would never consider trashing their brand this way.


  4. I’ve been on the other side of this one: taking online courses at a local community college as I transition out of my academic career. I’ve now had a couple of excellent intro science classes taught by creative instructors who used the online format to promote active, inquiry-based learning and who created a sense of online community among the students. I learned much more than I would have in sitting passively taking notes in a vast lecture hall. I also had one awful intro psych class taught by a part-timer who did nothing more than mount the textbook software and grade the occasional short-answer question–the course might as well have been taught by machine. I got an A and four credits and developed my skills in quickly scanning the textbook index–I learned very little about psychology.

    In every class I’ve taken, though, I’ve been humbled by the number of other commitments my fellow students have (many of them, like me, returning for retraining). I’ve also watched the enrollments halve over the course of the semester. These courses clearly fill a need–the students who stick it out are the ones working together on online group projects at 10pm on a Saturday night because it’s the only time available between work shifts, childrens’ sleep schedules, and the health needs of ailing parents. But they’ve clearly been oversold.

    Dr. Crazy is right: online education, like conventional education, is here to stay. It’s only as good as the resources backing it up. Unfortunately, real excellence and innovation is probably not going to come from the resource-rich Ivies, which don’t serve the populations who are driving the demand for it.


  5. I heard the most heartening snippet on NPR yesterday – an undergrad writing in to take a segment to task for assuming that students *want* social media mixed with their coursework. The student said that they (young ‘uns) use social media to tune out, not to tune in. So I guess I should cancel my plans to feed all my Western Civ lectures through twitter? (OMG wouldn’t that be a great contest – see who can come up with the best Western Civ twitter feed.) He said he actually likes going to class. I wonder if the online class craze is like the power point craze – a whole bunch of administrators etc deciding that these technologies are “teh way” while the students are mostly like “meh”.

    H- I agree with your point above about the increasing divide in types of education, which has obviously already happened at the primary and secondary levels. The tension of course is that state schools are desperately trying these schemes at least in part to cover budgetary shortfalls and to avoid jacking up tuition (it’s kind of hilarious to see state unis charging a lot more for an education that’s getting more mediocre! UC anyone?), which is another problem in the increasing war on the non-affluent.


  6. Perpetua, I see what you’re saying about the attraction of online courses as fundraising schemes. But I don’t need we need MBAs to see the problem with this strategy in state unis: The people of our state don’t give us adequate financial support for us to carry on our mission. I know! Instead of making an effort to convince them of the value of what we offer the people of our state, let’s just offer online courses so that we look MORE like the University of Phoenix and other for-profit schemes! Yeah, THAT’s the ticket!.

    But, I guess most of the people running universities today are just as short-sighted as the morons who run our state houses and congress.

    Hope you’re all enjoying that seed corn breakfast you’re eating!


  7. “But the *way* we run our F2F classes is essentially the same, I’ll wager.” Oh, see this I think is where I would disagree. I can’t run my F2F classes the way that undergrad classes were run at Elite PhD U, or even at Very Good State MA U. And don’t forget: at my kind of job, I teach comp. You’re not going to see anybody in any kind of RI environment who doesn’t specialize in comp teaching comp.

    I don’t see much continuity between what happens at those sorts of institutions pedagogically and what happens under the constraints of my teaching load/classroom set-ups/levels of student preparedness/motivation/responsibilities outside class in a F2F setting.

    So while I agree that online ed “is furthering the class and status divide between the fancy schools and the public universities” I guess my emphasis would be on “furthering” – that this divide already exists in F2F formats depending on institution type/resources (and maybe discipline? that may be a factor here, too).


  8. Fair enough, Dr. Crazy. While I occasionally teach a 100-level class, it’s not comp, fer sure.

    And, just to be clear: my personal refusal to teach online classes is something I can do b/c of my privilege. I have a 2-2 teaching load and a working spouse. My friend whose online class I discuss above has a partner who teaches as an adjunct, hence the need for her to teach in order to finance her research.


  9. At my college, we’ve been told to create new programs where HALF the required courses are taught online. Now how this will pay, unless they create a raft of adjunct labor to teach these classes… I assume a lot of places will ask professors to create courses then taught by others.

    So, if anyone has the cash, here’s an idea. I want to start an offshore company that feeds both sides of this new online classroom paradigm: A building full of people who teach the courses generated by a couple of professors (you, know, as instructors, paid — well, what do they pay for labor like that? Nothing, I imagine, and if we move it overseas…) Right next door, a building of people who can be paid to take the same classes for lazy Americans who don’t want to do it themselves. I’m telling you, it’s the business opportunity of the century… College in your pajamas indeed!


  10. HA! Joellecid, you should quit that job apply to be an administrator for the University of Bloody Phoenix. At least UBP doesn’t make any bones about the fact that they run a chop shop. I would have thought that your uni had more pride and self-respect than that, but I guess I’m not moronic enough yet to run a state university.

    I’m kind of surprised that Dr. Crazy didn’t point out how online teaching is just one more step down the road from the adjunctification of the F2F university. It certainly bolsters her arguments here, and I wouldn’t disagree with her on this at all.


  11. My institution just hired a new provost whose most distinguishable line in the CV is that s/he had designed online programs at hir previous institutions. *Sigh…* I teach languages, so the “technology” mandate is double. But then students and professors alike complain when majors in their senior year still can’t use “ser” and “estar” correctly. But hey, SLA experts say we should teach old-fashioned grammar!


  12. H’Ann – I definitely think that this can play into adjunctification – at my 4/4 institution right now though, it isn’t. We’ve fired more than half of our adjuncts in our dept. in the past 2 years, and all of this is being put on t-t faculty (though I will say, they are investing in resources for us to do it). When the budget situation improves, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing does turn to shunting the “delivery” of these courses onto adjunct labor.


  13. MIT does put some excellent courses online (for free). Of course, they are not for credit, so they are not really comparable to what you are talking about.

    I used to teach an extension course in my area of professional expertise. When students who had ignored my prereq of college level biology foundered on questions like “what is a protein?” I would send them to the MIT courses. I did not have time to teach them the fundamentals of biology in addition to the material in my syllabus.

    I think good enough to cook makes a good point about the complicated lives of many students in these courses. And they do fill a need, and perhaps do so better than some of the Univ of Phoenix clones out there. As a hiring manager, I’ve seen the results of some shockingly bad for-profit programs. Those programs have taken their students’ money without even a hope of a useful outcome.

    Of course, there are good for-profit programs out there, too. But I don’t know how potential students are supposed to navigate this mess.


  14. I agree with Dr C that the reason people on online course have higher fail rates is at least partly to do with the types of students who choose online courses. Most people I know who chose to learn this way did so because they did not have the time to go to classes due to other commitments. They tell themselves the ‘flexible’ nature of the scheduling (allowing you to study in your own time) will mean they will find the time to do the work- but very often, they were being overly-optimistic about the amount of work it would take and where they were going to find time. This wasn’t necesarily because they weren’t good enough, lazy or lacked interest; they were just failing to be realistic about what can be achieved in 24 hours, or, perhaps, failing to recognise that study requires your brain to be working, so trying to do it after work when you are exhausted, or whilst trying to care for children who keep interrupting you etc, is not as straightforward as it appears when you look at your schedule and have the evening ‘free’.


  15. Spanish Prof: you’re not jacking–thanks for reminding us of that OTHER story about how teh online maybe isn’t teh awesome. I remember reading that a few months back and thinking the same thing: DUH!!!

    And, I agree that online courses aren’t always and necessarily teh suck, either. There are people like good enough cook & others for whom they work well enough–people who have the skills and motivation to do higher ed the usual way, but who need a distance learning alternative.

    But I maintain that the actual number of students for whom online education might work is MUCH much smaller than the numbers of students enrolled in online courses now, and that unis are intentionally seeking out the very students for whom online is a really terrible idea and likely a waste of money.

    That’s the teeth-grindy, aching molars part of this hinky scheme, but there’s plenty to hate on all the way around in my book.


  16. I think online education can be done well or poorly, and whether the institution is dedicated to education or profit will determine which way it goes. I got my MLIS through the University of Alabama’s distance education program, because I needed the degree, there isn’t an MLIS program in my state, and relocation wasn’t an option for me.

    The courses were synchronous and the attendance policy for the brick-and-mortar half of the program also applied to those of us attending via the online classroom. The professors who taught online were most often the same (tenured) professors teaching in the classrooms, and the online courses were as rigorous and demanding as the on-campus courses. Research and professional ethics were key components integrated into all the courses. Tenure-track faculty outnumbered adjunct faculty.

    In contrast, a friend went through Clarion’s online MLS program, with asynchronous classes and mostly online-only adjunct faculty. She ended up feeling that the program failed in a lot of ways.

    I think a lot of it comes down to whether the institution is dedicated to making online courses part of an actual program and providing the resources necessary to pull that off, or if they are just throwing them out as independent entities to pad their offerings or looking for ways to further adjunctify their faculty.


  17. I teach in a program with just enough flexibility in the way degree requirements can be met that I’ve very occasionally allowed a student to complete an online course to meet a specific requirement. For me the key issue is rigor. Before I contract with the student to accept this (call it credit for “time served”–they won’t necessarily get institutional credit for it), they have to track down syllabi and/or instructors for me. Depending on where the course originates, that can be pretty difficult. Then I try to get a feel for the breadth of the course and how the student will be evaluated. Sometimes my colleague and I tack some sort of project or paper onto the agreement – to be completed, presumably with the knowledge just gained, in addition to the course.

    I will admit that I create some of the hoops to ensure that these students (who are often screw-ups in one way or another) realize how seriously they have to take it. And to make them realize it would have been better not to blow off their opportunities to take the course F2F in the first place.


  18. I agree that synchronous courses might work better, but the push for us is the asynchronous — the idea being that anyone can take the course on their time. It might meet from week X to week Y, but a student can complete the work anytime during the day or night. What I’ve found is that it generates a tremendous amount of work for professors in keeping up with students on discussion streams, etc, certainly a LOT more time than holding a simple 45 minute discussion in my F2F classroom. This is something that no one seems willing to acknowledge at my institution.

    I also think it makes a HUGE difference in the courses if the overall level is higher: masters vs. undergraduate, majors vs. core curriculum, etc. Commitment at the outset means a lot. And it’s no wonder that people in 100-level courses tend to do poorly. It isn’t like in my Western Civ courses they want to be there, but, as Historiann has said, at least if I see them, I can be on them to complete the work and my failure rates are low.


  19. Dr. Crazy: We’ve fired more than half of our adjuncts in our dept. in the past 2 years, and all of this is being put on t-t faculty

    This is happening here at Provincial State U. as well. The university is stuck with the cost of tenured faculty but not with the cost of fixed term faculty. We are early in the cycle though. It may be that what comes next is failure to replace retirements on tenure lines and the hiring of less expensive contingent faculty instead.

    There is certainly a push toward more online classes here, as well as classes that mixed F2F and online. Part of the reasoning is that we can “serve” more students without increasing classroom space.

    FWIW, I see participation in online teaching as a risky move for academic labor. I know there is often no alternative but I just don’t see how it is in my interest to say to my boss, yeah, you are right, there is not much value added by my work in the classroom.

    Cloud: MIT does put some excellent courses online

    Those materials are indeed excellent but come with a clear disclaimer that they are in no way a substitute for the MIT classroom experience.


  20. Right on. You are right to stick to meatspace.

    Back before I left my regional public u t-t job for private secondary ed (come on in folks, the water’s fine), I was asked to teach an online class, and I refused. I too saw it as contributing to the destruction of the profession. Yes, online education is often done well, but my old institution, like most others, was only interested in cutting costs and generating extra revenue.

    Online courses are easier to casualize and adjunctize, and allowing more of these courses to be created contributes to even greater casualization. (Case in point, we had an adjunct teaching all online classes whom I never laid eyes upon.) The ultimate vision the administrative overlords have for academic labor’s future is an army of untenured drones without benefits on a low-wage piecework system with such a strict assessment regime that faculty members can be treated like interchangeable parts. If t-t and tenured faculty refuse to help pave the road for this Fordist nightmare, it just might be prevented. At least I hope so.


  21. Truffula and Werner Herzog’s Bear encapsulate my resistance to online ed, besides my resentment that it’s clearly intended as a cheap work-around. It’s insulting to my current teaching and to the profession of teaching itself, and many uni’s (like joellecid’s) clearly intend to take our intellectual capital (class desgins and syllabi) and franchise it out to be taught by cheaper, replaceable, fireable adjunct labor.

    Is higher ed something that should be mass-produced for the maxiumum number of consumers, like any other consumer good? I vote no, because I think education is clearly a case in which we get what we pay for. (Actually right now, people are getting more than they pay for at state universities. Have an extra-helping of seed corn for lunch, friends, because it ain’t gonna last!)


  22. Pingback: The Devil is in the details. « More or Less Bunk

  23. Pingback: Well That Was a Lot Easier Than I’d Thought It Would Be « Reassigned Time 2.0

  24. Have to agree that sometimes it’s not what the student wants either. HerrTech is going back to school. He’s only taken online classes for GEs and things. For all the lower division courses that he knows he’ll need the knowledge to build on for upper division later he prefers in person.

    He’s mostly taking evening classes with work but did take a few during his lunchtime and talked about how frustrating it was for him to deal with what were mostly new high school graduates who were lazy and not trying, or taking classes only to please mom and dad. He felt the evening atmosphere of mostly working people who were taking this class for their own reasons were a better group.


  25. “And don’t forget: at my kind of job, I teach comp. You’re not going to see anybody in any kind of RI environment who doesn’t specialize in comp teaching comp.”

    Nitpicking here, but when I read this I wanted to that from what I’ve seen, this isn’t that common. At my R1 the 60 or so sections of comp per term are taught by an odd combination of English grad students (both PhD and MFA tracks), postdocs, a random and revolving door of lecturers, and a few decidated senior lecturers/administrators of the comp program. I think only this last group (which number less than 5) could be called “specialists” and most of them more or less fell into their positions by virtue of sticking around the city for several years, post-PhD–there’s actually no one with a PhD in rhetoric or comp around. And no one with tenure comes within a few miles of the program, except when observing their advisees teach–one prof I know admitted he hasn’t taught comp in a few decades and really wouldn’t want to.

    There’s a requirement that the students submit their work online, but regulation of that is up to the instructors…either they mark everything online, or they do it all on paper. I’m always interested in how (little) marking figures into discussions like the one on this thread, especially as many profs in face-to-face courses now also mark online.


  26. CDS – I think I was unclear in my comment – what I meant was tenure-line faculty teaching comp. At my institution, every person with tenure or on the tenure-track has a responsibility to teach comp. There are no grad students. There are no post-docs. We have but ONE rhet/comp prof who is not in an admin position. In other words, my teaching responsibilities are not limited to or influenced by (except for in one course a semester in my four course per semester load) by my actual field of expertise. In fact, in many semesters, half of my load has been comp, which is nowhere near my field of specialization.

    So you’re right: in an R1 environment, non-t-t instructors teach comp all the time, even if it’s not their field of specialization. This was true for me in grad school: I was getting a PhD in lit, but I taught comp as part of my funding package. The point that I was making (albeit not very well) is that in my current tenured position, my teaching responsibilities have little in common with my peers with tenure (or on the tenure track) who are in positions at elite institutions, such as those Historiann notes, or, honestly, even at institutions like Historiann’s with a 2/2 teaching load. Or even at my grad school friend’s SLAC with a 3/3 load. The world of the regional 4-year is very, very different, in English, than many other worlds in higher education, in terms of how pedagogy translates. Again, I think I did a less than clear job of making that point, but that was what I was aiming for.


  27. Also, as for what students want: my students in my online classes always talk to me about how they prefer F2F. The online format for them is one that is necessitated by other demands, but given their preference, they would rather actually go to class, for the most part.


  28. truffula, it is certainly true that MIT doesn’t intend those online courses to replace MIT in person coursework. I tried to acknowledge in the second half of the sentence, which you didn’t quote, but I can see that I wasn’t very precise. My point was just that some of the elite schools have dabbled in the online world. I believe that there were at one point even programs at other schools that advertised that they were using the MIT courses. My memory of this is fuzzy, coming only from reading a news story in Science or something like that, but I think the other schools were not in the US.

    I’m curious, though, what all of you who don’t think your institutions should offer online courses think that students with constraints that prevent them from taking in person courses should do? If you are a working single parent who wants to get a degree in order to try to move up to a better job, what should you do? It seems to me that there is a place for online instruction, and I personally would like to see students have options beyond the for-profit schools.

    But I’m not in academia, and no one is asking me to create online courses, so I recognize that my opinion may be a minority one.


  29. I wouldn’t be opposed to online courses if 1) the people who taught them were tenure-track or tenured rather than easily exploited adjunct and “special” faculty, as they seem to be in many cases, and 2) if there was evidence that online courses were functionally the equivalent for students as F2F courses. But that’s not the case in either instance, so it looks to me like online courses are exploitative both of the hopes of students and of the faculty who teach them. And when I’m feeling especially foily, I worry about instances like the one joellecid mentioned way upthread, in which she suspects that her uni is interested in taking her intellectual capital, hiring an untenured person to do the scutwork, and then pocketing the profit$$$ from selling it to students as an online course.

    I realize that there may be potential students out there who want to get a degree for whom F2F classes would be an inconvenience. But quite frankly, who ever said that college–or anything else worth doing–should be “easy” and “convenient?” I already have too many students in my F2F courses working too many hours and with too complicated a personal/family life to be taking as many credits as they take. They are NOT getting their money’s worth from their educations, because they’re trying to cram 8 years of coursework into 6 or 4 (or less!) And, they’re getting Cs and Ds in the process. How does that serve them well in the long run, to cut corners and try to squeeze college in as a half-a$$ed “hobby?”

    If colleges really wanted to serve a new, underserved population, they’d permit the hiring of legions of new tenure-track faculty to teach more classes, especially since those students might need a little more TLC as they transition from full-time work and/or figure out how many credit hours they might reasonably take given their other commitments. These colleges would encourage regular faculty to hold classes at odd times and off-hours and on weekends, and they’d pay the faculty extra to encourage this service by either more cash or course releases. If need be, colleges would expand the old-fashioned way, and build new classroom buildings and library facilities to accomodate these students. To expand otherwise–purely “virtually”–suggests to the public that universities don’t believe there’s any value to having faculty who are experts in their fields rather than exploited labor with a grading rubric. It suggests that there’s no real value in the college experience of 700+ years standing–so why not buy the cheapest commodity you can get your hands on?

    In short, colleges and universities would actually serve the public like the goddamn non-profits and/or state institutions they are. It would surely be nice if the public recognized and rewarded universities for the work they do by voting for taxes that will support said universities. But I guess I’m just old fashioned here in believing that universities should be more ethical and less venal than politicians or the general public. Universities need to take the long view rather than go for the short-term gains of seed-corn eating. Universities need to stand up for educational values and the tradition of learning they represent, not market values or marketing schemes.

    I really resent the marketing strategy of these online programs that clearly imply that college can be fun–and convenient!–and you can do it in your jammies without actual learning from peers, showing up to class, or any human contact. I think that’s selling people an inferior product, and I think it’s morally and ethically wrong.


  30. If institutions weren’t so busy flying consultants around from coast to coast; jumping from “Learning (sic) Management (sic) System (sic)” to “Learning Management System” every two years–each one goofier than the last–holding retreats, workshops, “charettes,” webinars, and layering on more “Associate Deputy Provosts for Resource Allocation Analytics,” the plain ol’ branch water program that Historiann outlines above would sound more sensible than utopian. Below is a tech-speak message we got today about a cool workshop for learning how to give quizzes–seats filling up fast, folks, better sign up.

    Back in the day, “desire to learn” came to campus free of charge in a station wagon with a battered paperback.
    All the university had to provide was a nice tree to sit under and read it. “Where are the cash-stream multipliers in that kind of crap,” my line manager wonders? How did they live that way then?

    IT Services is pleased to announce the August and September workshop schedule for the “Desire2Learn Quizzes” workshops. There are also seats still available in the “Content and Navigation in Desire2Learn (Introduction)” workshops. The “Workshops and Training Schedule” is available on the IT Support Center website at… Please select the “Register” link next to the date/time of interest to access the registration form. You will receive a registration confirmation notice via e-mail.


  31. Historiann, you make good points and I can’t really argue with you. But the net result is that people for whom a fully F2F program is an impossibility (not a mere inconvenience) will be left to the for-profit colleges. You know those people are out there, and you know the for-profit colleges won’t ignore that market. And as those programs gain more acceptance, more of the people for whom F2F is just an inconvenience will go that way, too.

    I guess that’s OK. Some of the for-profit colleges do a pretty good job at what they set out to do- i.e., give working adults the bare minimum of education they need to get to the next level at work.

    But I think it is a shame. I wish the state universities could find a way to come up with programs that work, and maybe deliver a little bit more than that bare minimum, because I think education is more than just training for work.

    I recognize the difficulties, and I can understand how it would be hard to design a program when you are convinced that it is not as good as F2F. But from where I sit on the outside, the problem is that for many of the students involved, the choice isn’t between a F2F program at your university and the online program at your university. It is between the online program at your university and an online program at an institution interested solely in their tuition money and how well they can place them in an initial job (nevermind whether they last at that job or can find the next one). I want those students to have options beyond the for-profit programs.

    For what its worth, I voted for the last round of tax increases for the universities in my state. It didn’t help- they still went down to defeat.


  32. Agree with H-Ann’s analysis here, but I’m afraid that horse left the barn about 15 to 20 years ago, apparently when nobody (or nobody who mattered) was listening to the deafening sound of the hoof beats. I really doubt the trend can be now halted, never mind reversed, at this point. The casualization of academic labour (which hurts students and their [contingent faculty] teachers first and foremost, of course, but which also accounts for the stagnation, if not absolute decline, in tt-faculty salaries and benefits, of course] is now a built-in ‘variable,’ to be manipulated in the service of state budget crises, and various ‘cost-cutting’ initiatives.

    But cheer up, all! I mean, it’s not as though they could actually outsource *grading*, right?


  33. Cloud, I think what is at issue here ( in your 8.46 post) is the role of the BA: is it a credential that lands the student a job or a learning experience that allows the student to explore and master a field of knowledge?

    I think a big problem is that people, inside and outside of the university see the BA as a sorting mechanism. You need the degree to get a job (or promotion) – it shows employers you are ‘good enough’ because an external evaluator, the University, said so. This stems from a larger problem where a person who has twenty years of experience in a field, is no longer qualified to be a manager based on experience alone. They need to have the BA, even if the knowledge they get from that BA is extraneous to their actual job responsibilities.

    Academics, especially in the Humanities, tend to view the degree as a set of experiences and accomplishments that allow students to demonstrate a mastery of the material in an intellectual field. There is no goal (or at least no measurable one) beyond learning to think through the tools of that field whether its literature, art, biology, history, etc. Now those intellectual tools might help you do a better job in running a widget factory or working the call center, but its not guaranteed.

    If people only view the BA as something that gets you a job, well, then its all the same where you get the credits. Public or Private non-profit, it doesn’t matter as long as you tote up the total number of credits to add up to a BA. Just don’t expect a degree from the University of Phoenix or Western Governor’s University to carry the same cultural capital as a BA from Bates College or even the University of Michigan, and you won’t be disappointed. You paid your money, toiled for your credits and got your middle class union card punched.

    I think an argument could be made that the public universities have an obligation to serve those people seeking credentials just as much as they serve ‘the discipline’ by teaching students to master the relevant material of their chosen discipline. Land Grant institutions have an obligation to continue their mission to serve the public, and on-line education could be part of this, similar to the extension service.


  34. I create online high school courses. I teach them at least once myself to work out any bugs and then pass them off to F2F high school teachers to teach. The online school I work for tried having F2F high school teachers create online courses themselves, but there is a different skill set required to create successful online curriculum. The learning process is different, and the teaching process needs to be different, too. One of the complaints that we get from teachers who are used to teaching F2F is that teaching online is much more time consuming, and they are absolutely right. While you may be correct that colleges and universities outsource online teaching positions to adjunct faculty to save money, in at least some instances they do it because traditional faculty members don’t have the mindset or the skill set to move into the online teaching mode. It is particularly true of professors who rely mostly on lecture as their teaching style. They often have difficulty making the transition.

    We offer high schools the ability to have students take courses that do not draw enough students in their own schools to make the courses viable offerings, and students the opportunity to prepare themselves for college level online education by taking an online high school course. Many otherwise good students struggle with the kind of time management skills needed to succeed in an online course. Not surprisingly, many of the high school teachers we recruit struggle with the same issues.


  35. Matt_L, I actually agree that a BA should be more than job training, but I sympathize with the people who are stuck in a job and can’t move to the next level without the BA. It seems completely reasonable to me that their motivation in getting the BA is going to be job-related.

    However, in my ideal world, once they go for a BA, the actual education would be broader.

    What is happening right now is that many of them end up at for-profit universities, which don’t always include anything broader in the degree. This is a shame on many levels: the student and society miss out on the benefits of a broader education, and the student will probably hit a new ceiling in his or her career, and may never really understand why.

    I totally agree that the reputation of an online degree might rightly be less than the reputation of a F2F degree. My solution to this is to create a new degree program (heck- maybe even an entire new “university”- grant the degrees from My State University Online). Sure, people will think the degree is “less” than the regular F2F BA- that sort of ranking already happens at all levels of education. But if the programs are done well, they will rate the state university online degrees higher than a BA from one of the for-profits. Honestly, I already differentiate amongst the various for profits when I’m reviewing resumes, because my experience has taught me that some of those programs are more likely to correlate with critical thinking skills than others.

    I’ll stop hijacking this comment section now. I just feel strongly about this topic because I happen to hire people in a field that has a lot of applicants with degrees from for-profit programs, and in many cases, I think the student got cheated by the program he or she chose. “Buyer beware” only gets you so far if there aren’t any other options available for these students.


  36. Samantha, you’re very right that it takes a certain skillset to design a good online or distance education course. When I’ve created these, I’ve been fortunate to work with a team of people who’ve helped me see how to improve the course experience, from editors and education consultants to secondary readers. Currently I’m acting in that position for a course in our a related discipline: helping to catch points where I know students require more background or context, for instance.

    Designing a good distance education course takes effort. Teaching it takes a lot of effort, every time you offer it. Taking it as a student takes a lot of effort, too!

    My husband’s doing a CC-style program to get a certification he needs for his work. Every term he takes one or two online courses for this degree. Some of them are better than others and it’s not all down to the particular instructor. If you don’t design an online course well, it tanks very easily, no matter how good an instructor’s on board!

    But as long as administrators have a vision that it’s cheap and easy to offer courses online to fill in the gaps when permanent faculty leave or programs need some sort of expansion? We’re screwed: faculty, students and communities that expect better from their colleges and universities!


  37. I’ve taught composition (writing in the disciplines) online, and I do think the format can work, especially for a class that already involves a lot of workshops, group work, and other step-by-step exercises aimed at teaching students how to approach a fairly long, complex research-based paper. However, instructors do need help in finding ways to do something equivalent to what they do f2f online, *and* the best online course is always going to be one that’s designed and taught by the same person (or by a designer and an instructor working very closely together), tweaked semesterly, and more comprehensively updated every few years.

    As far as I can tell, that’s not at all the model that administrators, legislators, and others who see online courses as a more “efficient” way to “deliver” “instruction” are envisioning. Instead, they think an “expert” can design a “course,” and it can then be taught by people who are much less experienced (or at least more desperate) and therefore cheaper. Really, they seem to be envisioning an online “course” as a multimedia, slightly more interactive, version of a textbook with accompanying exercises and answer key (and, indeed, instructor’s copies of textbooks are beginning to come with all sorts of “extra content” that can be uploaded into a Learning Management System, just as they started coming with canned powerpoints a decade or so ago). That may work for some large intro courses with fairly standardized content (though I have my doubts), but it’s not going to work where students’ individual, often idiosyncratic, responses to class activities and assignments, and the teacher’s response to those responses (and so on) are a key part of the learning process.

    And yes, the ads for online classes invite students who already underestimate the sheer amount of time and energy a college class requires (and should require) to be even more overoptimistic about how much they can realistically juggle. So those of us who teach online classes (at least those of us who still have the freedom to do such things) send emails spelling out the time commitment and warning students of the need to check their schedules and make sure they really can complete the work of the course, hit them with enough work to serve as a further warning early in the term, while they can still drop, and still see much higher attrition than in f2f classes. For those for whom the format works (often a disciplined, mature-for-hir-age or non-traditional-age student with good time management skills and family support), it works well. But there are, indeed, far more students taking online courses than should be taking them, and for many it’s a waste of whatever time they do manage to put into the course before giving up, and of money.


  38. Pingback: Sowing the Links of Love « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured

Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.