Fearing the loss of never was
Posted by aogWednesday, 08 May 2013 at 21:33 TrackBack Ping URL

Via ‘Joanne Jacobs”:http://www.joannejacobs.com/2013/05/is-online-learning-for-steerage/ is this lament about online classes. The key paragraph

We can therefore anticipate the formation of three distinct groups of students. Well-off students will attend the few colleges and universities that are wealthy enough to eschew standardization and automation. They alone will have real relationships with great faculty. A second, less wealthy group of students will use online courses for their general education and attend “authentic” institutions for a short while. For poorer students, online learning could well become the main course. They will attend institutions that, strictly speaking, grant post-high school credentials to the coach class.

My immediate response is “how is that different from the current situation?”. I attended a top school and excelled at my studies but basically had zero interaction with professors outside the classroom, despite the fact that my father knew several of them personally. Even in graduate school I interacted essentially only with my thesis advisors and one or two other professors. None of my fellow undergraduates or graduate students that I knew had a different experience. When I was a teaching assistant, on the other side so to speak, I didn’t interact with undergraduates. I’m not even sure when or how that would be expected to happen. I had office hours and hung out in the computer lab a lot but I never had students drop by for a chat, only for course related issues.

So what, really, will be lost with the rise of online course work? My undergraduate work could have been done with a video conferencing system just as well. I think people who write articles like this fail to grasp how rare their own experience was.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Bret Thursday, 09 May 2013 at 06:42

Not to mention the fact that many supposedly brilliant professors are absolutely horrible teachers.

On the other hand, I’m a better book learner than a classroom learner so I’m told my perspective is warped.

On the third hand, a great deal of my professional network consists of friends and associates from college. That will be a huge disadvantage to the “coach class” going forward - they’ll have a much, much harder time putting together an equivalent network.

On the fourth hand (lots of hands so picture one of those Hindu statues:-), lots of female-male interaction (used to be dating, now more varied and perhaps less healthy) happens in college.

On the fifth hand, what about college parties? Those were fun!

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 09 May 2013 at 09:20

Hmmmm. I have basically no contact with anyone I met in college. That probably makes my perspective warped.

I do wonder if online course wouldn’t give more scope to meeting people through class work. Making associations and friends in the online world will be second nature to most of these students.

For dating, it might well be good for society to have less assortive mating.

P.S. College parties … I never found them fun at all. I only attended if socially obligated to do so.

Bret Thursday, 09 May 2013 at 11:20


Given your last comment, I think your experience is far enough different than typical as to render your analysis irrelevant in this one particular subject. Yes, if you go to college strictly for the learning and don’t take advantage of the social interactions, then online learning has far fewer, if any, disadvantages. The Ivy leagues and many mid-to-low-level schools like USC and Ohio State are legendary for social interactions from parties to alumni networking. And even at my very nerdly, unsocial school (MIT), plenty of people still took advantage of the social opportunities.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that online learning needs to replace a significant portion of the college experience for a variety of reasons. I just think that there will be significant downsides.

erp Thursday, 09 May 2013 at 12:56

One pro for on line classes is there will be far less indoctrination of students with left wing propaganda. Young people will find ways to meet each other even if they don’t meet in classrooms.

Bret Thursday, 09 May 2013 at 13:35

erp wrote: “Young people will find ways to meet each other

Sure, but it’s a lot harder.

erp wrote: “…far less indoctrination of students…

Indeed. I think the only point of some course titles I seen is indoctrination. For example,I’m not sure how you could have a course in women’s studies without meeting in person for the purpose of indoctrination, but maybe I’m just sexist.

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 09 May 2013 at 14:43

I do wonder how many more students will complete their studies if they can’t go to parties. I certainly knew students who flunked out that way.

I think that incoming students will be far more adept and accepting of meeting people online. To a large extent college used to be one of the few ways to get out and meet very different people, but that’s no longer the case. I think Bret is underestimating how much the importance of college as the gateway to larger social networks has diminished.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 13 May 2013 at 16:04

I talked with SWIPIAW about this, as she was a professor at a top ranked university for 8 years. She pointed out that the number of students who (1) spoke with a professor at all (even in class) was a tiny fraction of the students and (2) there are strong limits on how many students a professor can interact with outside of class, regardless of what the professor wants. So the professorial interaction, at least, is already very limited or not used so I don’t see that as an enormous loss.

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