Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sullivan on Online Education

I started to add this to the comments on marginalia's post below, but didn't want to hijack.  So, here's my favorite line from Teresa Sullivan's statement to UVA's Board of Visitors:
There is room for carefully implemented online learning in selected fields, but online instruction is no panacea. It is surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential, and unless carefully managed, can undermine the quality of instruction.
I agree completely.  I teach online, and like it, but only because, at least for the moment, I'm free to craft labor-intensive online classes which center around activities that allow students to discover concepts for themselves, practice skills, and interact regularly and intensively with each other and me.  The focus is not information delivery, and there's no mechanized assessment; feedback comes, in words written specifically for the particular student and/or class, from me and/or their peers.  The vast majority of the class materials are created, and all are chosen/curated,  by the instructor of record -- me -- and are updated in some way, from tweaks to wholesale revisions, every time I teach the course, based on what I observed in the last iteration.  The course is an evolving, organic entity, both during the term, and from term to term.  In short, it's an actual course, not a multimedia textbook with a few interactive elements.

Sullivan's statement (and a good compilation of other reactions to the BOV actions) is here . The Washington Post obtained and published an academic strategy memo written by Sullivan (which includes endorsement of online/hybrid education for particular practical/targeted, mostly non-glamorous, purposes) in early May.   Emails exchanged among members of the Board suggest that a sense of urgency about capitalizing on the reputation-building and (supposed) cost-saving potential of online education played a role in the decision to remove Sullivan. Amanda Krauss/Worst Professor (who I sometimes find a bit annoying, but she's in a position to provide an useful perspective here) has a  post up on the possibilities and limitations of MOOCs, and their connection to the UVA debacle.  There's also a very funny parody of the BOV's thinking up on Crooked Timber. 

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