In her continuing quest to find a revenue source for Coursera, Daphne Koller has found a new straw for her company to grasp:
The Antioch model reflects a third paradigm, in which one institution uses courses produced by another as the basis for a credit-bearing class. In this model, the online content is generally “ wrapped” with some face-to-face class time by a local instructor, who can facilitate discussion, answer questions, ensure that students are making progress, and possibly augment the course with additional content and/or assessments.
She then goes on to point out the supposed wonderfulness of this arrangement:
Most small institutions do not have the staff or the expertise to offer all of these classes; indeed, no institution (even large ones) can offer the same breadth of curriculum that one can derive from multiple institutions contributing their best courses. By sharing these outstanding educational resources, institutions can provide a much richer and broader curriculum to their students, which may better support their specific interests or open up new career opportunities. Local instructors can still be used to help students traverse the material, but considerably less manpower and expertise are required to facilitate a class than to prepare the curriculum from scratch.
In the business world, this is called outsourcing. Perhaps the colleges that utilize this model never would have hired anyone to teach those courses in the first place. Perhaps not. What we can be certain of though is that as long as this option is available, these small colleges will never be fully funded again. To borrow a phrase from Christopher Newfield, this setup would allow colleges to continue running on empty perpetually. It is a solution to a resource problem that only an administrator could love.
Unfortunately, that is not even the most disturbing part of Koller’s article. This is:
With an online course, students get the benefit of having constant interaction with the material, as well as learning at their own pace; in-class time is then freed up to give students more opportunities for interaction with their instructor. Online courses also help educators improve the quality of their instruction, allowing them to devote more time to the task that they are uniquely qualified for: understanding and supporting the needs of their students.
While some critics might say this model turns instructors into glorified Teaching Assistants, the reality is that it actually allows instructors to move away from orating, and go back to teaching, the way it was meant to be.
Black is white. Up is down. Jefferson was the Antichrist and online learning is actually the traditionalist approach. It’s not. The model that she’s proposing breaks up college instruction into two component parts: content providing and individual guidance. The content would come from Coursera’s superprofessors. The individual guidance would come from the local, less-than-super talent that a client university would provide.
Outside of academia they call this de-skilling. It’s de-skilling inside of academia too, whether it works well or not. She’s assuming that administrators are going to act responsibly. For those of us on the front lines of higher education that’s a terrible bet.
I don’t know about you, but I got absolutely zero guidance in the art of teaching when I was in graduate school. They threw me to the wolves as a TA during my second year, and I survived by doing the opposite of everything my own undergraduate TAs did because they obviously had no instruction in instruction either.
What I know about teaching comes from experience, both as a content provider and from providing individual guidance. I would still be able to use my individual guidance skills if I no longer had the chance to provide content, but it’s my content knowledge that makes me most qualified to teach college. That knowledge, along with the disciplinary skills used to develop it, is what my employer is primarily paying for when they hire me in exchange for my low (but still living) wage. Even if I didn’t have to become a TA in Koller’s world, I could easily be replaced by one which would only force my wages down further than they already are.
The great irony here is that Koller praises the on campus experience at the same time that she’s trying to destroy it:
Higher education institutions are integral to our society; they continue to be focal point for serendipitous interactions that lead to innovative new ideas. As these schools struggle with reduced budget and increasing enrollments, it is more important than ever that they provide an excellent on-campus experience.
Silly me, I thought highly-qualified professors were integral to that on-campus experience. Without us, college is just a four-year stay at an expensive resort hotel with weekly football games every fall.