Who is right about the value of online education? College presidents or regular folks?
This is an addendum to my previous post on the Coming Educational Divide. In a survey published this August 28th by the Pew Internet & Family Life Project, they found that 51% of college presidents claim online courses provide equal educational value to courses taken in a classroom, while only 29% of American adults say online courses provide the same value.
Why the disconnect? It is because college presidents are more educated and therefore have more informed opinions? No, that couldn’t be it, because there is no conclusive evidence that online education is equal in value to face-to-face education. How could there be? Online education is in its infancy. Also, how does one measure value of an education? For instance, there is hard evidence that indicates a student is much more likely to graduate from a university if that student has a personal connection with one or more professors at the school. Can an online education duplicate that personal connection that a student develops when getting to class early or staying after to ask questions, maybe even questions outside of the subject matter being covered in the course? How about those professors that students know is available if they want to stop by and ask a question, or just chat? According to long-term studies, those things matter greatly to students.
I’m not even going to talk about the value of a face-to-face classroom vs. a virtual one (I touched on that in my previous post), nor will I discuss the problems online educators are having with cheating and accountability. I won’t point to the importance of the public school as a social experience, how the public classroom is a melting pot (some more, some less) that opens many student’s eyes to the experience of others very different from them. I attended public school in the 70’s during the heyday of integration. My junior high school was 50/50 black-white. There were fights in the hall every week. Leon Harris cornered me in the bathroom every day and stole my lunch money. But you know what? In the end, we came together. By the time we got into high school, our class was tight. I evened laughed with Leon about the whole thing. (OK, I guess I did comment on that).
I’ve taught writing at two public universities in Arkansas. Both of them have a strong mix of black & white, urban & rural (in many ways, the rural blacks have more in common with the rural whites than with the urban blacks, but the point is they’re all mixed in there together). I love teaching these kids the personal narrative, because as their stories emerge, they begin to see things from one another’s perspective like never before. Don’t insult my intelligence by insinuating that the social learning that happens in my classroom as these students share their struggles, passions, pains, and joys with one another can be duplicated online.
Do college presidents have priorities other than the academic betterment and overall well-being of their students? Of course they do. They have to pay the bills. They face economic realities. Could the economic realities they face possibly taint their perspective on the value of online education? Of course it could. Of course it DOES. Like I said in the previous post, follow the money and you’ll learn the truth on this issue.
In the meantime, be on the lookout for the methodical process by which online companies, college presidents, new media tech companies, and all those under their sway go about the business of convincing the public that online education is just what the doctor ordered. Somewhere somebody’s got that 29% written down on a chart, and they’ve estimated how long it will take to move that number to 40, then 50, then 60… all the way till they’ve got everybody convinced – except for a few crazies like me ranting and raving about the importance of unmediated humanity. By then our voices will be drowned out by the chorus of musically-enhanced and visually pleasing personal information systems keeping the masses happily sedated.
Wow, I am starting to sound like a crazy man.