Bad trends in higher education I

I agreed a while ago to teach a class online this summer. Our department is encouraging it when possible, especially for summer classes, and there is something of a movement more generally to online classes. While it's great for me (I can work totally from home at whatever hours I want), I've been thinking it can't help but be a drag on students. Yes, students who can't travel can still get an education. But a good part of a college education is not simply learning course material, but being in an environment where people pursue education. One catches excitement from profs, from other students; one opens one's horizons. One learns from a discussion in class, especially in philosophy classes. I know I can't answer questions as well on a discussion board or in email as in person.

I think the old-fashioned teach-in-a-classroom has advantages that simply cannot be recreated online. Perhaps less important, but still valuable if financially feasible, is the model of living away from one's parents' house and gathering at a university.


  1. What are the disadvantages to one-teacher-in-a-classroom? Do the online advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

    I ask because my instinct tells me the days of one-prof-per-classroom are numbered at the University. I predict it won't be long before a State system chooses the best professor to teach a virtual class at all campi in the system. Grad students might handle the mechanical aspects at each virtual lecture hall. And it would seem to me that the smaller, more specialized classes might benefit the most. I know I'd have appreciated learning from the best lecturer available on the topic. I can even see "canned" lectures for highly structured survey courses and intro level stuff.

    I suspect the advantages of virtual classrooms will outweigh the disadvantages, especially so as technology progresses. What this means for the professorial profession is a matter of gloomy speculation.

  2. nah gj, that might work for a few basic lecture classes (you know, the ones that have a hundred students) but is basically worthless for a full on college experience. What you are talking about is the opposite of what college should be, you are treating students as information consumers, but hell you don't even need teachers for that, a well written textbook is fine. I am a University Professor, there is so much more than just dishing out information, you need to motivate, listen to, understand, appreciate, etc. the students to help them develop. You need to treat them like humans, not as virtual images.
    Now virtual classrooms can work, if they are small. I would love to learn Chinese with a Prof. in Beijing, but it has to be few students, otherwise you can't learn the language. But other than that, no, I wouldn't have much use for this. Chalk this up to an idea that will most likely never come to pass.


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