Saturday, March 19, 2011

Online Courses

One of the questionable outcomes of the teacher myth has been the increase in online courses at the K-12 and college levels. (Here I mean courses taught entirely online, in which students and teacher never meet face to face and much content is learned by the students on their own by reading through online content.) On the one hand, putting information online is great (if it's open content) - students all over the world who don't have access to formal education can learn from it. Teachers can use it in their own classrooms, thus avoiding reinventing the wheel more than necessary and saving them time. But I worry that it walks a dangerous line inspired by the teacher myth: teachers are unnecessary. What about role models, emotional support, and the ability to ask questions?

Anything perpetuating the idea that teachers are unnecessary also potentially supports other problematic corollaries of the teacher myth, leading to the replacement of tenured unionized teachers with lower paid adjuncts (both at the secondary and college levels). All of this contributes to the de-professionalization of the field. So while we may be pro-online content and generally pro-technology, we should carefully consider the real consequences of being pro-online courses.


Janos said...

Theoreticians know that student work is P, student work after a good explanation/lecture by a teacher is NP, and a good seminar/class with discussions is PSPACE.... -)

Seriously, there is no substitute for interaction. The ability to clarify something, to challenge and to motivate gets lost in the online setting. Interaction is powerful and can generate much more than immediate learning -- for example the love of a subject matter, friendships, etc. The medium is more than the message: the millieu can be as important as the contents.

GASARCH said...

David Brooks book THE SOCIAL ANIMAL
points to studies about how valuable face-to-face is in many situations.

Also, an on-line course cannot go off topic as much- for good or ill.

Shaban said...

There have been 3 teachers in my life who have inspired me to take up a career in science - their devotion to science and manner of thinking were as valuable a learning experience to me as the science they taught. This could never have happened in an online course. The online medium has its own advantages such as multimedia content, self-pacing, but it can never replace the human factor.

Josh said...

Love this post and I couldn't agree more!