Thursday, February 21, 2013

Online College Quality - Even Worse Than First Thought

First year Philosophy students at Loyola University, ca. 1965. There is no way they could have received the quality education they did from any "online" college!

Well, believe it or not, we may actually have a valid explanation of why that fulsome fundie wasn't able to do the test on evolution provided some blogs ago! It seems that online colleges, I presume especially those like "Smoke House Online Bible College" in Okeechobee, Fla. aren't doing anywhere near as well at educating their minions. Certainly not like regular brick and mortar schools (say lke Loyola University, with students shown).

According to Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, for example, about seven million students — about a third of all those enrolled in college — are enrolled in what the center describes as traditional online courses. These typically have about 25 students and are run by professors who often have little interaction with students. Over all, the center has produced nine studies covering hundreds of thousands of classes in two states, Washington and Virginia. The picture the studies offer of the online revolution is distressing to say the least.
First, student attrition rates — around 90 percent for some huge online courses — appear to be a problem even in small-scale online courses when compared with traditional face-to-face classes. Second, courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed.
In addition, the research has shown over and over again that community college students who enroll in online courses are significantly more likely to fail or withdraw than those in traditional classes, which means that they spend hard-earned tuition dollars and get nothing in return. Worse still, low-performing students who may be just barely hanging on in traditional classes tend to fall even further behind in online courses.
Lacking confidence as well as competence, these students need engagement with their teachers to feel comfortable and to succeed. What they often get online is estrangement from the instructor who rarely can get to know them directly.

As an example, let's take our fundie going online to Smoke House Bible College. Sure, he's got plenty of advantages, such as choosing his own time schedule to study or learn, and of course, he needn't burn up precious gas traveling all the way to Okeechobee. BUT....who is challenging him to think critically? Who is challenging his pet beliefs, say like the Jesuits challenged those of us attending Loyola, in our Biblical Exegesis,  Comparative Theology, or Philosophy courses?  Who is confronting him to approach his study skeptically, and leading him logically through the pitfalls and false assumptions, say via the Socratic method? (Made so popular by the "Prof. Kingsfield" character in the series Paper Chase).

Well, NO one! Thus, he can avail himself of no special tutorials or seminars by which to intensify the learning curve, nor is he challenged face to face by questions!  We can't even be certain of the quality of the exams taken, or the examiners! (Is his online college even accredited, and if so, by what association?) There is simply NO way then that he can expect to get the same quality education no matter how much he clumsily rants about "Planet of the Apes profs" or "Satanic schools."

Indeed, one of the failings earlier found in online college analyses is the recurring deficiency in critical thinking. This entails being able to ascertain one's false premises, as well as being able to challenge them ....say - in the case of the fundie - without having to have an atheist do it for him!

Much of the ballast for critical thinking is bound up with being able to write extensive essays on a given question or proposition. But the sad fact is that the very nature of most online education omits this. They can't have all their online profs tied up marking extensive essays all day, after all. So most tests and homework heel to the multiple choice or short answer format. In this way, deprived of the opportunity to write an in-depth analysis of their own views (say as opposed to googling them and regurgitating) they emerge half-baked.

Most college students today, according to assorted surveys, claim an average of 15 minutes of writing per nightly homework, compared to nearly 2 ½ hours back in the 1960s. However, and this is important, not even that 15 minute threshold is met by the online for profit outfits like Udacity.

Interestingly, the Columbia research center found that students in hybrid classes, i.e.  that blended online instruction with a face-to-face component, performed as well academically as those in traditional classes. But hybrid courses are rare, and teaching professors how to manage them is costly and time-consuming.
So it seems for the long time being, those accessing online colleges will suffer, not only in the depth of their knowledge, but in plumbing its weak links, poor assumptions and false biases.

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