The number of education degrees earned at online universities now far exceeds that received at traditional universities. An analysis by USA Today of recent Department of Education found that, in 2011, the University of Phoenix awarded 5,976 education degrees, twice as many as Arizona State University (ASU), which has one of the US’s largest education schools. ASU awarded 2,075 degrees and most to students who studied on a traditional campus.
Ten years earlier, the University of Phoenix awarded a mere 72 education degrees to teachers, administrators and other school personnel; ASU awarded 912.
Traditional universities still award the lion’s shares of undergraduate education degrees but the majority of master’s degrees in education are now from online universities including the University of Phoenix and Walden University.
The Rise of Online Education Is Inevitable
As Robert Pianta, dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, comments, “the whole industry is moving in this direction.” Indeed, Ivy League universities including Stanford University are investing in online educational companies such as Coursera and many universities offer online courses, if not online degrees.
But, as Pianta also comments, what is “the degree to which they are simply pushing these things out in order to generate dollars or whether there’s some real innovation in there?”
Report Criticizes For-Profit Schools
For-profit universities, both with actual campuses and online sites, have come under intense scrutiny. At the end of July, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, released the results of a two-year investigation of the industry. The report found that, while peole have paid $32 billion to companies that operate for-profit colleges, the majority of students who enroll leave without a degree; half leave within four months. Said Harkin in a statement:
In this report, you will find overwhelming documentation of exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation. These practices are not the exception — they are the norm. They are systemic throughout the industry, with very few individual exceptions.
In USA Today, the online education schools (of course) defend the quality of their course offerings, emphasizing that “students don’t just sit around in their pajamas.” The top programs are certified by the same organizations as certify traditional teacher education programs.
Online Education vs. Traditional Settings
Meredith Curley, dean of the University of Phoenix College of Education, points out that the average of age of a student is 33, with many students seeking a career change while caring for family and working. Online universities make it possible for such students to take classes and study in the times best suited for them, without having to get themselves physically to a college campus’ classroom. Janet Williams, interim associate dean for educator licensure programs at Walden’s Richard W. Riley College of Education & Leadership, said that students must complete a “full semester in a real-live K-12 school as a ‘demonstration teacher,’ paired with a master teacher and supervisor in the school district.”
But as TechCrunch comments:
Unfortunately, there’s no good way to compare the quality of offline to online degrees. Schools and unions are still in a heated debate over how to measure the quality of existing teachers, largely because we still don’t know how to measure learning. “Children are educated and learn over a period of time, but we have this notion that children are to make a year’s growth for every year they’re in school,” said Paul Heckman, UC Davis’ Associate Dean of Education. “This is —a problem, because children do not develop in nine-month chunks except during gestation.”
The convenience of online education is hard to downplay. My students are often glad to take some courses online, especially for core curriculum requirements; one less class to worry about being late for. As a teacher, I don’t think that online courses can ever be a real substitute for traditional classes where I have face-to-face interaction with students. But I do know that, thanks to email and social media tools, it is certainly possible to communicate and interact with students about coursework and it’s hard to argue about the flexibility that online courses offer.
But are teachers trained online ready for the real world of the classroom?
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