That question comes from a conversation my illustrious department chairman and I were having while driving up to Denver International Airport for our second ten-day stint in a row showing teachers historic sites around Boston. The reason he asked me that was apprehension we both have over a distance education summit on our campus that our Provost has called in a few short weeks. The Provost has offered no hints of anything he might be springing on our campus, but I hope you can understand why I might be worried. After all, thanks to the Internet, I can be replaced by starving historians worldwide! And thanks to American labor law, I have next to no rights at work (but then again, you don’t have any either so I guess it’s all good).
That last bit is the reason that I eventually answered Matt’s question in the affirmative. I seem to remember stories of people being switched from American to World History classes just to encourage them to retire. I think forced online teaching could work the same way. After all, if they can eliminate your job by eliminating your department without declaring financial exigency, telling you that you have to teach online might actually seem like an improvement from your perspective.
What seems a more likely course of action, if not at my university then at universities in general, would be that faculty would be given an option to teach online. If you don’t accept that option, then the extra work would be farmed out to starving historians elsewhere. Anything else would be like leaving money on the table to them. Seriously, I think the problem with higher education today is that the average university president has adopted the same attitude towards their work as Ivan Boesky c. 1985. When you can’t tell the difference between public and for-profit education, I think it’s the public universities that have the bigger problems.
So perhaps the better question here would be, “Should they make you teach online?” I think you know already that my answer is “no.” Where do I start with reasons? It’s often dull, there’s no security against cheating, it usually does nothing to foster critical analysis, etc. But Ivan Boesky wouldn’t care about such trivialities. All he’d want to know is whether it would make any money.
However, I say “no” on those grounds too. The internet has disrupted many established in its relatively short history. However, in most cases those industries have suffered because it was possible to build a better mousetrap. Someone give me one advantage of online education from an educational standpoint. No, the ability to learn while still in your pajamas doesn’t count because that’s not educational.
If all the financial benefits of online education continue to flow to the university and the students continue to get no educational benefit from the endeavor, this whole house of cards simply won’t last in the long run. The students are going to demand a better education because employers are going to demand better educated graduates.
So I think I’m going to become a conscientious objector – an online education Quaker.* If there’s ever a draft, I’ll go to prison because I don’t want to participate in a system that’s misguided at best and inherently corrupt at worst. Unfortunately, war sometimes makes leaders do stupid things. Here’s hoping our university’s leaders are only at the preparedness stage.
* This doesn’t mean I’m opposed to online elements in face-to-face courses, what we call “hybrid courses” on my campus. I think the Internet should supplement existing classes, not replace them