I went to our Provost’s online education summit a couple of days ago and I’m pleased to announce that the evil plan to replace us all with robots has not kicked in…yet. It felt like I was the only cynic in the room, but I pressed on anyways.
When I asked the Margaret Soltan memorial question about people taking your online classes for you, I actually got a couple of responses. The first was a good one. If you’re teaching via video hookup, that can’t happen. But what percentage of online classes are taught via video hookup? I didn’t think the second response was nearly as good. Yes, hybrid classes prevent these kinds of security problems, but hybrid classes aren’t the issue here. Heck, I teach hybrid classes now.
The thing that I found most interesting about the entire two-hour experience was the number of times various advocates of online education invoked student demand as the reason to move gallantly forward into our online future. Students want to learn in their pajamas, gosh darned it, so we need to give them that opportunity! I couldn’t help but wonder if we in higher education would seemingly all be thinking this way if state universities around the country got the financial support that they deserve. Since they don’t, we have to cater to student demand in many ways we might not do so otherwise, including offering everything online.
In Texas, this kind of attitude has finally created some pushback. Margaret Soltan herself titled a post with part of this most excellent quote from a report by a dean at UT-Austin arguing against Governor Rick Perry’s market-oriented reforms:
The business-style, market-oriented approach embedded in such recommendations would drive top students and faculty members away from UT and diminish its standing among major universities, the report says. Moreover, it says, the recommendations overemphasize the student’s role as “customer” at the expense of the more vital role of “learner.”
“The higher education experience is not akin to shopping on iTunes or visiting Banana Republic,” the report says, adding that “the campus is not a marketplace.”
Online education would not exist if it weren’t for the need (not the desire, but the need) for universities to seek out new student markets. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless it becomes a vehicle for excessive pandering.
I’m not afraid of ladders. I’m afraid of falling. I’m not afraid of online education. I’m afraid of what online education will become if we in public higher education continue in our current “the student is always right because we need every warm body we can get” mode.
By the way, at the end of the meeting the Provost asked for volunteers to join an online education task force to
implement his evil plan discuss the future of online education at our university. I volunteered, notorious do-gooder that I am. I figure there really ought to be a cynic on that committee to keep them honest. But as I don’t expect that committee to even get its membership finalized before the start of the fall semester, I hereby promise to write about something other than online education in my next post. So help me, God.
Anybody got any good history topics worth discussing?