Don’t feed the beast.

12 09 2012

If you don’t read the Academe blog because I contribute over there sometimes, then you should read it because of the high quality of material provided by the other contributors. This piece by Martin Kich, for example, is incredibly persuasive even though I don’t agree with it:

The issue of whether faculty ought to resist this “automation” of higher education is already moot. Tenure-track faculty now constitute just 35% of the faculty employed nationwide, and full-time non-tenure-eligible faculty account for just another 18%. And at many institutions, the percentage of full-time faculty is much lower—at some technical and community colleges, even as low as the single digits. Faculty, in the traditional senses of the classification, are already on the verge of becoming anachronisms. Resisting or, worse, denying one of the major factors in our radically changed circumstances will serve only to hasten our demise.

OK, but the problem with that assessment is that it would require me to teach online. Life is too short to teach online. I didn’t get into this business to stare at a computer screen all day. Of course, you can do remarkable things by staring at a computer screen all day, but the administrators who Martin wants you to engage with don’t care about how remarkable your course is. They’d replace you with an adjunct in the blink of an eye. All they care about is revenue. Therefore, my position is don’t feed the beast.

So what happens if the beast eats you? I think he’ll eat you faster if you enter the cage than if you stay outside. The more faculty who engage in online pedagogy, the more legitimate this form of instruction will become. Now that would be awesome if online education deserved that legitimacy, but if you judge the online education industry on its own terms it hasn’t earned anyone’s respect yet:

Education researchers have actually conducted a number of studies about this. As of a few years ago, the findings were pretty bleak for the industry. A literature review in 2009 found that ”all scholarly research to date has concluded that the ‘gatekeepers’ [human resources managers, executives, etc.] have an overall negative perception about online degrees.” But online teaching has gotten a lot better in the past three years, and the results are starting to show up on surveys of employers. One study found that half of executives viewed MBAs earned online as no different from ones earned in person. That’s still substantial stigma, though. If half of employers don’t think your degree is worth as much as those of other people applying for the same position, that’s not a great position to be in.

What happens to the online education industry if things stay this way? What happens to the professors who’ve made the jump online if it all turns out to be just another bubble? What happens to the students who jumped with you?

I refuse to have the answers to those questions on my conscience.

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