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?)
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.)