Today’s post is a guest post from a random commenter on the internets, Jonathon Booth. I have no idea who this person is, so take it for what it’s worth, but I thought his comment on my previous post deserved highlighting and perhaps further discussion. I hope he’ll check in and comment further:
Having taken a number of online business courses from a reputable university (long story), I’ve come to the conclusion that they are utter garbage. First of all, they are made as easy as possible—which is their primary appeal to students. I took a second year course, and the entire grade was based on weekly reading of one textbook chapter and answering about 10 simple questions from the book. The amount of actual knowledge I gained from these courses was next to nothing, but I did manage to get As in almost all of them. Second, and certainly more important, the students that get the most out of online courses are the students who are already self motivated to learn. The difference between taking an online calculus class and simply buying a calculus textbook and teaching yourself is minimal. This of course puts students who need a bit of extra motivation—even just a professor’s disappointment at their missing class—at a distinct disadvantage. Third, the classes are usually over-enrolled, and the part-time adjunct faculty (who I assume are making next to nothing to teach the classes) never seem to care very much. The whole thing is very rote and is a pathetic imitation of higher education.
I doubt very much, even with technological improvements—always just around the corner—online education has much promise, other than to line the pockets of university administrators. [Ed note: my suspicions exactly!]
Pretty perceptive for a student. Jonathon’s comment tracks with what I’ve heard from my Baa Ram U. students who have taken online courses. I had a very bright and motivated student in my survey class last term who even had a degree from an online for-profit school, and he commented more than once about how much more demanding even my ridiculously large survey class was compared to his online coursework. (To his credit, this wasn’t a complaint but rather a recognition of the challenge before him. He’s a Marine, after all.)
Jonathon left us with a few more thoughts about TED-style lectures as substitutes for lectures from experts in their fields:
(Also, the idea of students sitting and watching lectures never seems to work out. The whole TED talk paradigm simply doesn’t fit, because TED talks are by their nature the opposite of an academic lecture. They’re shallow and dramatic, and made for fun, not real learning. In many in-person lecture classes at my university, professors film and upload their lectures. Unsurprisingly, many students take this as a hint that they don’t need to go to class, and will just watch the lectures “later.” Those lectures rarely get watched, and when they do it’s in a last minute cramming session before an exam.)
I’ve been wondering lately if the TED craze isn’t responsible in part for the rash of entrepreneurial rich dudes who think they’re experts in education because they’ve given a TED lecture, or they’ve watched a dozen of them by their rich dude peers on YouTube. Interestingly, there is a New Yorker article this week by Nathan Heller that shows just how dominant entertainment values (aggressive rehersal of each talk; like TV genres, most talks follow a rote formula; top-notch production values; heavy, aggressive editing) are in the TED phenomenon. How can any boring old farts like us workaday proffies compete with that? I’d look great even in High Def if I only had one lecture per semester to prepare, if I were shot from several different cameras, and someone edited out all of my ummms and ahhhs. (And who among us wouldn’t look brilliant with all of that support?)
Who are you, Jonathon Booth, man of American history mystery? I hope you’re not a faculty-type putting on a faux identity to make a point, however much these points deserve making.