If you didn’t recognize the “disaster of biblical proportions” reference in the last couple of posts, it was indeed from Ghostbusters. In the scene above, that awful man from the EPA turned off Spengler’s ghost-trapping machine and the Ghostbusters are trying to explain to the mayor what’s about to happen as a result.
I love Ghostbusters for many reasons, but only in my most recent viewing did I realize that they were all failed academics. Toward the beginning of the film, there’s this great part where the dean comes in and kicks them off campus. [Obviously, they weren't tenured.] Therefore, I don’t even need to change much to make my extended Ghostbusters analogy fit online education.
Who, you might ask, is the equivalent of that awful man from the EPA in academia? I’ll go with Ayn Rand. Seriously, I don’t think anybody would ever have dreamed of bringing online classes to public higher education in America if it weren’t for gigantic cuts to state funding brought on by people with too much money who are desperate to keep even more. Their kids, after all, will never be learning online. That’s just for poor people who don’t need to understand the past for their future lives of service to our corporate overlords.
The setup of online courses is practically guaranteed to keep things that way. Another thing I learned at that AHA session last week is that you can’t test online students about historical facts because they can always Google anything. This is indeed strangely reminiscent of Nick Carr’s famous article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” but you don’t have to buy Carr’s premise in order to understand the problem here.
Suppose I want to quiz my online students on facts they learned on the web sites I sent them to throughout a particular section of the course. They have 15 minutes to finish the quiz. In the same time they can write what they actually learned, they can open up another tab on their browser, Google the question and write the answer whether they learned it when they were supposed to or not. As a college professor, I’m well aware that there are a lot more important things to learn in a good history class than a lot specific facts. However, I’ve also been involved in the TAH program for long enough to appreciate the benefits of historical knowledge for promoting good citizenship.
Moreover, students need to learn at least some facts, otherwise they won’t have any history at their disposal to analyze. I always tell my survey students that history is actually pretty easy when you realize that you can always remember the facts that you find most interesting in order to answer my very broad questions. Online history class, therefore, is like taking every test open-book. I’m not sure this means that Google is making us stupid, but it certainly decreases the incentive for history students to commit any historical facts to memory.
I think this kind of ignorance is going to haunt us all during our glorious online future. With the Ghostbusters struggling outside of academia along with the rest of us faculty, who we gonna call then?