01 September 2009

On another overview of on-line education. Are the geeks backing off?

A few days ago I drew attention to a report from the US Department of Education on on-line learning.

I should have waited, because now there is an interesting parallel report from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities / Sloan National Commission on On-line Learning.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marc Parry introduces his piece thus;
They worry about the quality of online courses, say teaching them takes more effort, and grouse about insufficient support. Yet large numbers of professors still put in the time to teach online. And despite the broad suspicion about quality, a majority of faculty members have recommended online courses to students.

That is the complicated picture that emerges in "The Paradox of Faculty Voices: Views and Experiences With Online Learning," part of a two-volume national study released today by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities—Sloan National Commission on Online Learning. ...

The major survey of public colleges and universities found that 70 percent of all faculty members believe the learning outcomes of online courses to be either inferior or somewhat inferior, compared with face-to-face instruction.

Professors with online experience are less pessimistic. Among those who have taught or developed an online course, the majority rated the medium's effectiveness as being as good as or better than face to face. But in a potentially controversial finding, even among professors who have taught online, fully 48 percent feel it is either inferior or somewhat inferior.
And for those hooked on the hard stuff, here is a discussion of attending a virtual conference in Second Life.

Rather more polemically, Mark Bauerlein draws attention to the impoverished nature of on-line and mediated communication in the WSJ. Read the comments, too. (And incidentally he mentions the recent death of Edward T Hall, anthropologist and author of "The Hidden Dimension"--on cultural aspects of the management of physical space--and "The Silent Language", to which Bauerlein refers. Hall was 95; his website has not yet caught up with his death.*)

It's all interesting in its own right, but most encouraging is the more considered and balanced evaluation of technology-based teaching and learning which is emerging. The Second Life example particularly is a comment on the former geek rhetoric, "We can, therefore we should". Instead, there is a more realistic question about the added value of doing stuff on-line (and the added costs).

But there is also an issue about whether people like us are really equipped to comment on what the student experience might be. They, it is argued, are "digital natives" who have grown up with all this technology and to whom it is totally transparent and natural. We did not, so we shouldn't project our own reservations onto them...

* Oh dear--I can't resist. The question of who will up-date one's website with news of one's death is a new problem. But it is not as exotic as the question concerning, it appears, some American evangelicals who believe in the Rapture (Google it if you are not into eschatology), when Jesus will return and true believers will be taken into heaven, leaving the rest of us behind. The problem is, who is going to look after the dog? No worries! Rapture Pet Care has it sorted. A dedicated band of atheists will...

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