More Link Dump

It’s easier to point to other pages than to write out thoughtful (or facile) blog entries, so because today is Packing Day — in which the professional packers come to finish off what Margaret, Jennifer, and Pippa have not already done — I’ll simply point to other people’s thoughtful entries. Well, another reason is that the topic I most want to blog about is still embargoed.
So, today’s postings at Inside Higher Education include several noteworthy columns. Evidently the Obama Education Department wants to underwrite online courses at the high school and community college levels, which would then be “owned” by the feds and would be free and open to all. (I infer that this means “not for credit.”)This makes tons of sense to me; it’s the sort of educational initiative that I’ve been pushing for all along. “For credit” is a cost-intensive system that’s easily open to abuse; “not for credit” depends on the student’s own interest, makes available the skeleton of guidance toward deeper understanding, and can persist without constant intervention for evaluation and updating. I just hope that their express interest in “vocational” course offerings doesn’t tie the courses to transient topics and phenomena (“Introduction to Cobol”).
In related news, the government is announcing a study that shows that online (or, especially, mixed-format) courses produce superior results compared to face-to-face courses. Big caveat: if I read the article correctly, the more precise reult of the study is that the amount of time a student puts into their studies — which turns out to be greater in online courses and mixed courses. My takeaway is not so much that digital trumps carnal, but that effective teaching requires that teachers elicit voluntary interest from their students. If you interest students in the topic under examination, and demonstrate to them that they can learn what they want to (at least, some of it) if they put the time in, they will be more likely to put the time in. Online courses tend to have more elastic schedules, so that students have access to more time in which to pursue their interest. The principle doesn’t favor online education; the contextual framework for teaching favors online. In an all-face-to-face setting, such as in many conventional schools, teachers will be able to amplify the effectiveness of their teaching by eliciting willing participation in study — not a news shocker, but well worth remembering anyway.
I was interested by the article on administrators who deal with campus crises mostly because it supports the research of Gary Klein on “intuition” and decision-making, and hence coheres with my arguments relative to the Aristotelian practical syllogism, signifying practices, and ethics, interpretation, and pretty much everything. The administrators on whom the column reports knew the rules and procedures well enough, but they made their decisions based on experience, intuition, and a sort of pattern-recognition that enables them to spot the key relationships and mechanisms that would bring about the best results. Plus luck.
Last, a chain of links led me to this powerful comics-form comparison of Orwell and Huxley, with acknowledgment to Neil Postman. I’m not uncritical of Postman and his technological Cassandrism, but the comic makes its worthwhile point quite vividly.

3 thoughts on “More Link Dump

  1. The Huxley/Orwell comic is cool, but it makes the unfortunate implicit argument that Huxley’s and Orwell’s visions of the future were mutually exclusive. It also commits the rather irritating blunder of literalising Orwell while taking Huxley’s vision as symbolic, or at least hyperbolic. If you read both 1984 and Brave New World as hyperbole, then compare what you get to the world around us, seems to me that they both made some pretty accurate observations. Still, the comic strip form makes an important argument very concisely and accessibly.

  2. It would be interesting to know whether they matched the on-line and face-to-face learning cohorts for age and employment status etc. We tend to find that a much higher proportion of our on-line students are mature age than are our on campus students and mature age students in general do better than the younger ones. My observation is that an increasing number of our on campus students are also trying to work 25-30 hours a week and take a full time course load, whereas the on-line students may be working 35-40 hours /week, but they’re also only taking a half-time load.

    I think that one of the advantages of blended mode study in some disciplines is that teaching staff can set multiple choice quizzes that are computer graded which give students the incentive to do some revision as they go without increasing the marking load on the teaching staff.

    It also depends on how the grading works – there are several ways in which on-line assessment can lead to inflated grades. My daughter is studying German and they have a set of on-line quizzes worth 20% of their total grade for the unit. They can do each quiz as often as they like until they are satisfied with their mark, so she got 100% on each of those quizzes. Because she has also done quite well in the other assessment tasks, she has three grade options: High Distinction, Distinction or Fail because she has to get at least 50% in the exam to pass the course. My husband is also studying and you can only do his on-line quizzes once, but there is no time limit, so there is nothing to stop you from sitting with the lecture notes and text-book open while you do them. Because not everyone has access to high speed internet connections, setting time limits becomes very difficult and leaves institutions open to accusations of giving some students unfair advantage, so not having a time limit seems to be the fairest option, but again results in inflating grades unless the on-line assessment is worth a very small percentage of the grade.

  3. On the matter of time spent on study in online/hybrid or traditional courses: I wonder if there is also something to be said about the *kind* of time we’re talking about, or more specifically, how *study time* relates to *normal time.*

    For traditional-course students, time spent thinking about the subject matter tends to be in large chunks, starkly isolated from “real-life time.” I wonder if online/hybrid students are more likely to address the subject matter the same way they address their other online activities: in little chunks, more frequently, and better integrated into the rest of their real-life thinking. If so, this might get them more easily into that wonderful, marinating, simmering, percolating mode of thinking where *synthesis* happens.

    Perhaps some carefully crafted survey questions could get some answers on this.

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