Class Warfare Blog

January 8, 2013

Is Education on the Brink of a New Golden Age?

Filed under: Education,History — Steve Ruis @ 9:25 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

No.

I watched a gushing piece on education on the PBS program News Hour tonight. They were all aflutter about college courses being given away for free on the Internet. It is a whole new world apparently, but amidst the hallelujahs and hosannas they slipped in that these courses had “low completion rates.”

Ah. Indeed.

I can recall correspondence courses. They were conducted by mail. They were going to revolutionize education. But, unfortunately, they had low completion rates.

I can recall television courses. They were conducted via broadcast television programs and the mail. They were going to revolutionize education. But, unfortunately, they had low completion rates.

I can recall the first generation of computerized courses. They were conducted by computer and mail. They were going to revolutionize education. But, unfortunately, they had low completion rates.

I can recall second generation computerized courses. They were conducted via the Internet. They were going to revolutionize education. But, unfortunately, they had low completion rates.

And, the newest education techo-fix, MOOCs or Massively Open Online Courses, with their stellar professors, highly placed supporting universities, flashy production values, etc. . . . they are expected to revolutionize education. But, unfortunately, they have low completion rates.

Why is it that these “innovations” result in students not completing courses? Is there something inherently wrong with them?

Yes.

You see, education is a social process. It requires structure and pressure from professors and peers and parents for students to stay the course and complete their work. Without the face-to-face interaction and structure (we meet MWF from 11-12 in Commons 213, etc.) students do not have the self discipline to continue to the end of a course. The whole idea of an education is to provide students who are providing their time and effort with logistical support: the institution provides the classroom at the time stated, a professor to guide the process, an enrollment system and record keeping, an academic calendar, standards of accomplishment, etc. because without all of those, very few students are motivated enough and skilled enough to manage their own educations. (Encyclopedia Britannica used to claim that a bachelor’s degree worth of chemistry information was available in its pages (along with quite a few other subjects as well) so why not just go to one’s local library and study up?)

Heck, even when students were given on site courses that were self-paced, the completion rate dropped like a stone. We came up with the translation “self-paced” = “slow.” A self-paced course, assumed to be a good thing, removed the pressure to keep up and students immediately fell behind, even with the pressure from professors and peers and parents, the structure did not lead to completion. There is no techno-fix I am aware of that can replace peer pressure. (Dude, you were supposed to meet us in the library last night, now we are behind in our project! signed The Course Avatar)

So, repeat after me: education . . . is . . . a . . . social . . . process. When they come up with a system that includes high completion rates, at least as high as traditional course work produces, then I will pay attention.

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3 Comments »

  1. Good points. For me it was the one-on-one with the professors and the interaction with other students that added to the pleasure of learning.

    Comment by lbwoodgate — January 10, 2013 @ 12:48 pm | Reply

    • Absolutely! Me, too. It is hard to take one’s measure in a chat room. Having to defend your ideas in the public square of the classroom is a real test and a measure of one’s ability to work with others. Words only account for about 9% of communicated meaning (or so say some psychologists) so stripping 91% of all meaning away is bad enough when we are forced to (as when the author of a comment is dead) but from one’s own classmates? Sheesh!

      Comment by stephenpruis — January 10, 2013 @ 12:52 pm | Reply


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