I’m not afraid of ladders. I’m afraid of falling.

8 07 2011

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?


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6 responses

9 07 2011
Middle Seaman

No history story coming from me. I went to talk to the “online experts” at school. They have a mandate and nothing else. No demo to share, no guidelines and , “we will help you,” they seem to know rather little and the lady feels superior and short tempered. (I am the 30 year veteran, while she is a low level functionary.)

Do cry for me Argentina; like the whole country we are fucked!

9 07 2011
Dan Allosso

I’ll be interested to read more about this, as the program moves forward. The type of thing I’ve been thinking about has not (in my imagination) been associated with pre-existing institutions. I’m not sure it’s that easy for the iceberg to function as a replacement Titanic.

In the meantime, I decided to put my money where my mouth is (http://www.danallosso.com/AEH/AEH.html ). Comments welcome.

10 07 2011
Music for Deckchairs

So I cheered when you volunteered because more and more I’m in agreement with you, even if I’m coming from a different direction. The sceptics need to be in the room when the strategic planning is underway otherwise it’s just a prayer meeting for the already converted.

But for me this is the saddest part, as I don’t doubt that it’s becoming true: “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.” If this is the case, it’s bringing to an end something that did exist before universities caught on to this need: the creative DIY phase of online learning. It does seem that we’re increasingly likely to replace this either by the directly cost-driven imperatives of online=cheap or the indirectly cost-driven imperative of online=attractive to the punters.

Maybe now the most interesting moves will now be those outside the loop we’re in, in community-sourced and open education, and projects like Dan’s videos (which I really like!). But for those of us still working in universities, where do the big developments in, say, participatory digital history fit in? Is this the time to be giving up on online, just as we’re seeing such interesting opportunities for students to learn by making content?

Good luck with the evil plan.

(I’m not afraid of ladders. I’m afraid of them falling on me.)

14 07 2011
Why take history classes when you can Google anything? « More or Less Bunk

[…] dean, a guy who I usually love to death, said something at the online education summit I went to a while back that really got on my nerves. He told a story about a student who asked him, “Why do I have […]

26 07 2011
“Those evil-natured robots, they’re programmed to destroy us.”* « More or Less Bunk

[…] you thought I was kidding about replacing professors with robots? Here’s step one, as reported by Nashville Public Radio (via Tenured Radical): The Bill and […]

24 10 2011
Don’t ask, don’t tell: Online education edition. « More or Less Bunk

[…] encountered the first part of this answer before. To me, it’s the functional equivalent of placing your hands over your ears and humming […]

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