This fall marks my twentieth year of teaching. Call me an idealist: The one lesson I’ve learned several times over is that there is no substitute for a teacher’s actual, human presence in the classroom, interacting with students by walking among their desks, glancing at their papers, making sure their eyes are looking at the board.
That said, I have been steeling myself for the brave new world of online education. I’m not a newbie, having taught an online course (on Great Books) some years ago.
Here are five reasons that suggest that the virtual college classroom could become the norm for many students before too soon.
1. Cheaper and Even Free Courses
In an era of nearly-trillion dollar student debt in which the phrase “indentured student” is too often heard, the lower costs of online education are attractive. Advances in technology and video-editing software have meant that, from a university’s perspective, it has become much easier and cheaper to put up online courses, as John Mitchell, Stanford University’s first vice provost of online learning, says in an interview in The Atlantic.
Online courses offered by the for-profits Coursera and Udacity and nonprofit edX– some taught by professors from highly selective institutions like Stanford — are free but do not provide students with credits they could use to earn a college degree.
But that situation is already changing.
2. Universities Are Starting To Accept Credit For Online School’s Courses
Colorado State University’s Global Campus has announced that it will give full transfer credit to students who take Udacity’s free “Introduction to Computer Science: Building a Search Engine” course. 94,000 students have taken the course since it became the first one Udacity offered last year. 98,000 have signed up for the second class which will start in April; it is taught by David Evans, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Virginia who is currently on leave from that institution.
The course — which teaches students to build a web browser like Google and to learn the basics of Python, a programming language — is free but getting the transfer credit and a “certificate of accomplishment” cost $89. That’s the fee students must pay to take a test, administered by the Pearson VUE testing group, which has more than 450 testing centers in 110 countries.
Germany’s University of Freiburg, the Free University of Berlin and the Technical University of Munich, as well as Austria’s University of Salzburg, have already given credit for an earlier Udacity course.
3. Recognition of Problems Like Plagiarism
Last month, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that students taking start-up Coursera’s online courses were reporting dozens and dozens of instances of plagiarism. It is a hurdle that online universities face: When the number of students enrolled in a Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) is in the five digits, how to assess their work, let alone know that their work is their work?
The issue is far from being solved. Requiring students to pay a fee to take a proctored test is a solution edX (which was founded by MIT and Harvard) and Udacity are trying out.
Photo by bandita
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