Thursday, August 8, 2013

Which Way to a Better Education...and Future: Part 2

In 2007, an article by Distance-Education.Org proposed that college education was due for a whirlwind change and it would be led by distance education.  The author, Jennifer Williamson, does a great job of making predictions that make sense and are realistic.

Two Aspects of the Article that Scared Me When I First Read It

"Online Education is Changing Everything"

Today, access to the web is almost synonymous with being forward thinking in the classroom.  Heck, if you're not connected in class and using Wikipedia and Google and the next information place to appear, then you're just not trying.  Well, the web is just a repository and that is it.  It is not the savior of education and being online before, during or after school does not change education any more than going to the library before, during or after school does.  

It's hard for most to see it, but the web is a convenience, nothing more.  I love the web and the ability to search for new items of information or resources.  But, availability of information and resources is not learning.  While I don't think online education will change everything, I think utilizing the resource must be a part of the bigger change that is education.  To what extent and how a teacher or student utilizes the web is different from class-to-class and student-to-student.

"Online education will become more accepted" 

OK, I really wasn't scared of the literal use of the web becoming accepted.  Instead, I was afraid of diploma mills being created and nothing but memorizing material for an exam.  I feared dilution of the concept of a degree/diploma such that everyone has one.  Getting a degree should not be trivial.  Only the smartest should breeze through high school.  And even less should breeze through college.   Not everyone is cut out for college and should spend the money attending college. 

But, there is an overwhelming feeling that everyone should go to college and thus college should be ready to take them in.  That growing sentiment is the biggest challenge to higher ed right now, if you ask me, because it opens the doors for faceless students walking imaginary halls at the University of Online Only and Pay for Your Diploma.  Anyone can apply.  Anyone can be sitting at that computer doing the work.  And then a diploma arrives with someone's name on it.

Look, college is supposed to be a challenge.  You are supposed to grow as a person and thinker.  Growth, my friends, is not always convenient.  While online universities are convenient, you lose out on 
  • getting to know your fellow students (peer networking)
  • getting to know a professor or two (professional networking)
  • learning to live on a campus and to follow the rules of that campus
  • interacting with others with different backgrounds than you
  • the energy of a brick and mortar campus
  • up the comforts of home for a temporary home while you bask in the learning
College is about mainly about being tested in all the above ways as well as in the classroom.  No matter what age you are, being on campus is a different version of existence because you have the best job in the world as a learn things and figure out who you want to be.

It is my hope that online components/classes are available at every university.  It is also my hope that no university is completely online.  Jennifer Williamson foresees "it's possible that online education will start to eclipse traditional class time".  I certainly hope that is not the equilibrium we establish by rushing into things without understanding the outcomes created by the lost experiences described above.

The Home Runs She Hit

"Online eduction will become more accepted"

What?  You were just afraid of this???  Well, in this case I am hoping that the appropriate classes at universities (ones that are information/fact based) will be accepted by the other faculty as important in the overall health of the university/college.  Some faculty will argue that anything done online is a travesty.  But, there is a place for such courses, especially in land locked campus situations where adding more classrooms is impossible.

"Traditional Colleges will not become obsolete"

If you think there is challenges associated with creating an online university, just wait until you take in the affect of killing a campus.  Especially a campus that IS the town.  The economics of closing down most of the educational institutions would be devastating.  However, I don't think that was her reasoning.  Her reasoning is likely based on the need for research labs and instruction that cannot be replaced by simple information testing.  My view includes all of the above plus the list of benefits of actually attending classes on a campus.

A Middle Ground

Without a doubt, online education will continue to be a hot topic.  The misconception that it's a cheaper option for the student and, probably, for the university is out there.  The full economics are not perfected, that is certain.  Yet, enough evidence is in that points to a world where the classes that make sense online will be offered both online and in-classroom.

It may be that the best utilization of online services follows what we are seeing in Kahn Academy and Kim Ki-Hoon (see part 1 of this article).  That the online aspect will nearly always be a compliment to a new format of 'traditional' in-classroom settings.  Now the question is, "What does that new format look like?"  

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