Two news articles have led to a discussion within OIT's faculty development team on myths about online learning. The first is a column in the New York Times by Randall Stross, professor of business at San Jose State: "Online Courses, Still Lacking that Third Dimension." While his definition of hybrid learning as "part software, part hovering human" is pretty good, his characterization of a "genuine online course" seems odd: "nothing but the software and would handle all the grading, too. No living, breathing instructor would be needed for oversight." There are online courses during which instructors and students never meet face-to-face, but the instructor certainly is involved in creating course materials, guiding students through learning activities and evaluating students. And I am not aware of any fully automated, for-credit online courses.
Stross worries about quality, while Texas governor Rick Perry's recent statement about online learning is connected to lowering the cost of tuition and improving efficiencies. In his State of the State address, Perry issued a "challenge" to colleges and universities to create bachelor's degrees that cost no more than $10,000, including textbooks:
As families continue to struggle with the cost of higher education, I am renewing my call for a four-year tuition freeze, locking in tuition rates at or below the freshman level for four years.
As leaders like Senator Zaffirini search for more low-cost pathways to a degree, it's time for a bold, Texas-style solution to this challenge, that I'm sure the brightest minds in our universities can devise. Today, I'm challenging our institutions of higher education to develop bachelor's degrees that cost no more than $10,000, including textbooks.
Let's leverage web-based instruction, innovative teaching techniques and aggressive efficiency measures to reach that goal. Imagine the potential impact on affordability and graduation rates, and the number of skilled workers it would send into our economy.
While Stross and Perry do not likely share perspectives on education, they both reinforce some myths about online education. Following are comments from the faculty development team about Perry's speech:
Paul Baepler: Research shows that hybrid learning--not purely online learning--seems to have learning benefits when done properly. Moreover, online learning isn't equally good for all people in all stages of cognitive and affective development.
Lauren Marsh: Good teaching, whether it takes place face-to-face or online, never is simply the transfer of knowledge. The skills, practices and values that professors wish to instill in their students can't simply be downloaded from a website. Effective online learning environments are highly complex to create and facilitate--they should be learner centered, knowledge centered, assessment centered, community centered. Offering online education as a low-cost alternative ignores the complexity of the endeavor and the transformative potential of higher education and transforms education into a fast food experience.
Kim Wilcox: Teaching online isn't any easier or less time-consuming than teaching face-to-face. It's an old myth that instructors can teach many more students online than face-to-face, with the same effort.
Now that the educational technology consultants have weighed in, what are your thoughts on Perry's proposal for higher education? What do you think about Stross' characterizations of and concerns about online learning?