So the “paper of record” weighed in on online learning in its February 18th editorial entitled, “The Trouble with Online College.” Overall, the editorial paints with a wide brush and distorts the reality of online teaching and learning. Below is a point for point analysis of the editorial (some points are legitimate) followed by the ideas I would have made my editorial on the subject.
Online Through the Eyes of The Times
After a close reading of the editorial, the following are the major points:
There is some merit to what the Times puts forth, and a lot of misguided nonsense. First, in a well- planned and well-run online programs, the attrition rates are not significantly different from traditional classes. “Struggling students” who need remedial help would have been screened out prior to taking any classes. It is a best practice for online programs to be forthright about what online learning entails and realistically assess students abilities during the application process.
Also, not all online programs are the for-profit variety wherein students are aggressively recruited to spend their often government-funded tuition dollars with little hope of obtaining a degree. Many, like the CUNY Online programs, require mature adults to have 30 or more credits of previous college experience. This is not a recipe for exploitation, but the fulfillment of student’s lifelong desire to earn a legitimate credential at a respected institution. In fact, some online programs have policies whereby only students with a certain GPA can enroll in online courses, and only after their first year of college is complete. These policies and others would prevent a lot of the abuses seen in for-profit online programs that the Times attributes to the entire field.
Blended or hybrid courses are a viable option for many students at many institutions. Within CUNY, there is a major push from Chancellor Goldstein to ensure that all colleges within the university promote hybrid courses. Additional funding was provided to most CUNY campuses and college presidents were held to reporting requirements concerning hybrid/online benchmarks at their respective campuses. The idea that blended courses are “rare or costly” in higher education is completely off the mark.
Interaction in hybrid/online courses may be as robust, if not more so, than in traditional courses. In my fully online course I have:
What The Times Didn’t Say (but I have in my various blog posts)
1. The field of online learning has been one of the most dynamic developments in higher education in the past century. It’s growth has been meteoric, and it’s impact on higher education policies and programs, significant. (see this post)
2. Online learning is now an established fact in higher education, and is a strategic component at most institutions going forward (see blog post)
3. Online learning is part and parcel of a significant shift in how teaching and learning are conducted. Essentially we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in teaching practice from an instructor-centereed pedagogy to a learner- centered one. (see blog post)
4. Online learning has its issues and abuses, as does traditional learning. With any change in paradigm, those benefitting by the existing paradigm will vociferously resist change, usually by parroting specious arguments. The Times is complicit in this process by such editorials. It can take a generation of innovators to make real inroads in any endeavor as significant as college teaching. Despite the nay-sayers, the arguments for online learning are compelling and will not be reversed. (see blog post)
5. The existing model of pedagogy is bankrupt and completely outlived its usefulness. It’s one thing to criticize online learning as deficient, it is quite another to assume that traditional pedagogy, as practiced for several generations, is a paradigm of good teaching. As John Tagg writes in his book “The Learning Paradigm College,”, the current instructional paradigm needs a complete overhaul in its approaches, processes, policies, measures of success, and roles of teacher and student. It is this current system that has spawned a legion of educational reformers who clearly see the orthodox emperor has no clothes. (see blog post)
A lot more can be written, but the Times editorial is nothing but an embarrassment for those of us in the field of online. Has not the Times tried to change its operations due to the recent digital avalanche in publishing? In a similar manner, traditional institutions will be forced to change their operations in light of the avalanche of digital learning and a new learning paradigm.
Tagg, John, (2003). The Learning Paradigm College, Jossey Bass, San Francisco, CA.
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