What’s wrong with online courses

February 18, 2011 at 9:41 am 12 comments

I liked this piece in the NYTimes about why online courses aren’t taking off.  The author’s point about online courses “lacking the third dimension” (social, face-to-face interactivity) is a good one (and that’s where OpenStudy comes in), but the side point he makes is more interesting to me.  The media of online courses just is nowhere near what it needs to be!  Powerpoint slides, PDF tests, and no feedback is just abysmal, and we can do so much better!

When colleges and universities finally decide to make full use of the Internet, most professors will lose their jobs.

That includes me. I’m not worried, though, at least for the moment. Amid acute budget crises, state universities like mine can’t afford to take that very big step — adopting the technology that renders human instructors obsolete.

via Online Courses, Still Lacking That Third Dimension – NYTimes.com.

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Victor Eijkhout  |  February 18, 2011 at 11:02 am

    The other day you were talking about how “better than the teacher” is unrealistic, but we can be “better than the book”. In view of that, your statement here that embracing internet technology can make teachers obsolete seem optimistic.

    I agree that online materials can be lots better. The question what the role of the teacher is, becomes an interesting question. I doubt that the answer is “none”.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  February 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm

      Hi Viktor. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t say anywhere that we can make teachers obsolete. Perhaps you are seeing the quoted section as being my words?

  • 3. Greg Wilson  |  February 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    http://www.youtube.com/v/hw5k98GV7po (from the Khan Academy) suggests that we *can* go a long way toward addresses the “third dimension” online.

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  • 5. glenyan  |  February 19, 2011 at 8:03 am

    I think this is a good point. As part of this 3rd dimension, instructors really need to embrace new roles…and to maybe think more about what it means to be a teacher nowadays, maybe moving towards the term facilitator. It’ll be difficult for many, learning to truly put the student first.

  • 6. Will Stewart  |  February 21, 2011 at 5:16 am

    I think that the writer of the article is completely mis-informed. The best online courses are designed to be interactive, active, collaborative, participative, social and include plenty of face-to-face interaction. In fact, they are often much more so than traditional, campus-based courses.

    It seems to me that things have moved on and some people just haven’t quite caught up yet.

    • 7. Mark Guzdial  |  February 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm

      Will, my sense is that the UK is far in advance of the US in terms of distance learning classes. The writer may have been mis-informed with respect to best practice, but may accurately be describing current US practice. Are you aware of US online courses that you consider to be on par with UK courses?

    • 8. glenyan  |  February 21, 2011 at 9:21 pm

      Maybe the best ones, but those are difficult to produce. Many distance courses pay lip service to terms like collaboration, social interaction and activity, but miss the deeper intentions. In general, I think learning environments a sa whole haven’t caught up with, or have the mind-sets yet, for these terms in full.

  • 9. Aaron Lanterman  |  February 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    I forget where I heard it, but I once heard a speaker say “If you can be replaced by an iPod, you will.” I’ve expanded that to “If you can be replaced by an iPod, you *should* be.”

    Jeff Jarvis has talked about professors becoming more like “curators” of information than regurgitators of information.

  • 10. Online Universities and Courses | On The Web  |  March 31, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    […] What’s wrong with online courses (computinged.wordpress.com) […]

  • 12. foresttrailacade  |  January 10, 2012 at 1:28 am

    I agree with the concept of online education. You just search for good online educational sites and you will get idea about the concept. Online education is advance and is designed to be interactive, flexible and include plenty of face to face interaction.


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