At the faculty conference I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we heard a great presentation on online education. Some people consider online education the next Big Thing. It makes college education accessible anywhere in the world. It can potentially lower costs, at least for the educational institution, and possibly for the student. It can create the opportunity to take classes and complete degrees for those who cannot regularly attend a brick and mortar university. Sometimes, the interactions between faculty and students, and between students in a class or cohort are actually superior to those in the physical classroom because they are considered, written, and posted.
At the same time others decry the impersonality of the online courses, the poor quality of many courses, the lack of faculty interaction, and the lower regard these courses and degrees have with employers or other educational institutions.
It seems, as I listened to this, that there are two major factors driving this: accessibility and cost. Neither of these are bad in themselves, particularly if cost savings are passed along to students and not used to pad the balance statements of universities.
We are trying to think about how to have a redemptive influence in the university context and it seems that one way this happens is when quality of instruction is not a factor in the development of online education but the driving consideration. A few things that were discussed that relate to this were:
- Having university specialists in instructional technology who work closely with professors who are content specialists. Often the professors have to do both jobs including the one they are not trained for–that is instructional technology.
- Considering what can best be done online and what might best be done in personal mentoring and instructional experiences. Real education is not information transfer but a formational process.
- Online education can often isolate faculty from other colleagues and real collegiality (like regular coffee hours and collaboration) sustains a learning community and integration of course content across a curriculum.
- Lastly, personal or virtual face to face interactions between faculty and student can be vital to everything from understanding the finer points of a class to being able to give recommendations with credibility.
What are your thoughts about how online education might be used redemptively where quality instruction and mentoring enhances rather than is sacrificed to accessibility and affordability?