I can’t help but wonder if the future of university and college campuses involves students never even leaving their dorm rooms (at least for common undergraduate courses). After all, how much more personal is sitting in a 500 seat lecture hall versus watching a lecture on a laptop or tablet anyway? I was actually thinking recently that online degrees would allow the average level of teaching to go up substantially at most post-secondary institutions since the approach would permit each university to choose its top 5-10% of lecturing professors to reach the whole student populace. This efficiency would allow most schools to severely cut their maintenance costs, and would free up more research time for professors who are already stretched pretty thin. Masters students could still be responsible for marking the papers and the whole system seems to have a lot of advantages to me.
A New Model For a New Age
With Apple getting into the textbook game, my mind was flooded with all the interactive things a course could do online. There could be optional podcasts to tune into, interesting ways of mixing interactive virtual activities, as well as text with visuals. Finally, each student could pause the lecture and learn at their own pace. This makes a lot of sense from a pure learning perspective. It certainly seems at least as engaging as the current model. I agree that there is something lost from the traditional experience, or from a more intimate classroom, but those are not the realities of most first and second year courses these days anyway.
What Makes “In-Person” Delivery So Great?
It is interesting to me that at the moment online degrees are still looked down upon. The good old Bachelor of Arts degree has gotten so commonplace that I fail to see what makes an online one any less prestigious than a fancy slip of paper from any other institution. Basically, all a BA tells an employer is that you are capable of following directions and learning new things. If you’re lucky, it might also give you some resume material in the form of a GPA and/or some awards. Wouldn’t online degrees essentially show the same thing at this point?
At Least Online Degrees Have An Interesting Business Model
When you look at post-secondary institutions as business models, the online delivery system has some interest conclusions. Would people still make jokes at the expense of the University of Phoenix if they allocated their resources to attract the top talent in the world? If an online university began to pitch the message that they were going to specialize in high-quality undergraduate degrees for the most affordable price, wouldn’t there be a market for that? If you could run a course by offering a million dollar yearly salary to one of the ultimate authorities in a specific field, and then pay 50K a year to top-ranked Masters students to mark the papers, couldn’t you then reproduce that course to thousands of students? You could even hire a whole technical support team, and maybe even a creative design team to help make the experience as innovative as possible. Wouldn’t that educational experience trump the current system of hiring 8-10 professors (some of whom will be excellent, others not so good, presumably none would be at the level of our “million dollar mind) to teach huge theatres of disengaged students? From a business perspective, you could argue that there is almost unlimited scale available to that design.
We are living in a world that is increasingly using technology to leverage human production capacity. While there will always be negatives to this route (probably many fewer professors would be needed) the benefits should easily outweigh the drawbacks. I have had friends in courses like “intro to biology” where they did not go to a single class the whole semester, but instead watched the lectures on tapes, and they achieved top marks. Presumably they could have done much better with a delivery system designed specifically for that course. Similarly, I took a couple intro courses to round out my degree in my third year and only went to class to write the tests. I had a fair degree of knowledge on the subject area and simply looked over the readings before writing the test. I also did well, so I’m fairly certain that person-to-person interaction is not essential to learning at the post-secondary level, and I’m not even sure it’s a very good way to learn when you look at many professors’ respective lack of enthusiasm for lectures. If we went to a model like the on I proposed, it would even free up these academic all-stars to pursue their fields of study instead of lecturing to undergrads that they don’t want to be bothered with. In theory, it should work well for everyone involved. I’m actually quite surprised that more places haven’t begun trials of these methods with at least one or two intro courses.
What do you all think of online degrees? Have we reached a technological point where the correspondence model could be so engaging that it is actually far superior to the traditional lecture because of huge class sizes?