President’s Column June 2015 by Janet Glass
I needed to install a toddler car seat in my car. I found out how on YouTube. It was complicated, and I had to replay the video several times. I’m sure I’m not unique in this new way of learning.
Last month’s article focused on information like a car seat installation, information available online that was not specifically geared toward diplomas or credentials. This month I will consider structured courses. We’ll look at both free open courses and online courses that are taken for college credit.
What Happens to Campus Life?
Many of us look back fondly on our residential college years as a time when we enjoyed the company of our classmates in an intellectually and culturally rich campus environment. We could also drink beer. Although sometimes risky, we were newly free of our parents and could experiment with different lifestyles. That formative campus experience is expected to cost families upwards of $60,000 a year. The $250,000 price of a four-year private, residential college may result in either crippling debt or in the acceptance of only the elite. On the other hand, some world famous professors from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc. now have their courses available online for free. (These are MOOC, Coursera, Udacity, EdX classes.) They have thousands of students who see the same lectures as their on-campus students, take the same exams and read the same texts. In his new book, The End of College, Kevin Carey points out that students can enjoy many of the advantages of campus life; poetry readings, concerts, lectures, movie series, clubs, challenging discussions, and political protests without paying that price by living in a city that provides those things. He proposes that we should soon be able to get a reasonable four year degree online and have these extras, too. Thinking about our own lifelong learning as members of Ethical Culture, we enjoy some of the benefits of a college campus and more. Bergen Ethical Culture’s members offer movies, lectures, Socrates Cafe discussions, political protests and clubs of all sorts. More than that, we don’t have to graduate! We can stay and raise families in Ethical, while continuing to take courses online from anywhere, and pass on to our children and grandchildren this wonderful community. Everywhere University…Forever.
Who Are the Current Students?
Increasingly, the advantage of a premiere residential campus life is a reward for the privileged young. For the majority of students in the country whose resources of time and/or money may be more limited, the primary stated reason for going to college or trade school is to get a good job or advance their career. The statistics are clear; job seekers who have credentials have advantages in the work force. Many students these days are older; they may have jobs, families or live far from a college. They benefit greatly from the flexibility and convenience that online courses offer. The prominence of the residential college football team or the prestige of the architecture will hold little value for them. Other online students are adults with degrees who are motivated to enhance their skills or to follow their interests.
My sister-in-law, for example, has an interest in medicine. She just completed a third course from Coursera, this one in neurology. It was taught by a professor at Stanford University. She got a certificate of completion after taking the exams and submitting the required course work. The only cost was $25.00 to register in order to verify her identity. She said the material was hard, and she had to replay the lectures several times. The beauty of learning this way is that you can do that online. How was it personalized with thousands of others taking the course? The group was broken up into clusters that became mini learning communities and students frequently shared. She has a Ph.D. in Statistics, didn’t need a diploma, and she felt she learned a great deal from these courses.
My graduate students at Rutgers are teachers of foreign languages from various places. Their first language may be Chinese, Italian, Spanish, and German etc. I taught courses in Teaching Methodology and Second Language Acquisition Theory in person and now teach them online. I have found that the students were self-conscious speaking in the class because of their accents in English. Because they were functioning in their second language, they also need to take a little more time to form their thoughts. In written discussion threads, they have more time to shape their responses to the other students, to the videos or the readings. In evaluations all students have cited the convenience of being able to submit their work late at night and on weekends and to replay the videos. They also have reported that they feel they have learned a great deal. This is a 3 credit, full tuition class. It is required for NJ State Certification in order to teach a foreign language in the public schools.
These two examples are of highly motivated students for whom the online learning experience was successful. They were also college graduates, like the majority of people taking these courses.
According to the May-June 2015 issue of Harvard Magazine:
As might be expected of MOOCs created by faculty members from elite, selective institutions like Harvard and MIT, they aim high. The report reveals that among the participants in the 1.7 million course units logged, the proportion with bachelor’s degrees ranges from 61 percent in STEM offerings and 63 percent in computer-science classes to 76 percent for those studying in humanities and associated fields, and 81 percent in the government, health, and social-science area. Elsewhere, the report notes, “no course has a majority of non-bachelor’s participants”
This brings up the question of who is currently being served well in their programs and who is being underserved.
The final part of Everywhere University will consider this and look to the future in the July Focus president’s column.