Friday, December 3, 2010

The Future of Higher Education is Online. (Get Over It.)

"Those in higher education who continue hand-wringing over the relative merits of online learning and other technology-driven platforms will soon find themselves left in the dust of an up-and-coming generation of students who are seeking knowledge outside academe." - Jack Stripling, Inside Higher Ed

Last month, college leaders apparently came to that conclusion at the TIAA-CREF 2010 Higher Education Leadership Conference. Mary Spilde, President of Lane Community College in Oregon, said that today's students are "pretty bored with what we do." David Millron of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation suggested that "we are not far from the day when a student, finding unsatisfactory reviews of a faculty member on, will choose to take a class through open courseware online and then ask his home institution to assess him." Talk about the tail wagging the dog!

A recent special edition of the Chronicle Review was dedicated entirely to online learning. Marc Parry's article declares, "the classroom of the future features face-to-face, online, and hybrid learning. And the future is here." Salmon Khan of the Khan Academy says "YouTube U. Beats YouSnooze U." and passionately argues for a new paradigm to replace lectures and textbooks as they are traditionally employed. His not-for-profit and open-source-based academy has the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And Mark Milliron (also from the Gates Foundation) simply states, "Enough already." The "family feud" needs to stop so that we can teach today's students and maintain our relevance. The debate about which is better - online or face-to-face - no longer resonates. What's most obvious and disturbing is that our global competitors are doing a better job than we are at educating at-risk, low-income, minority, and part-time students. And they're doing this largely via online instruction and learning opportunities.

There are economic reasons to end the feud, aside from those related to unserved populations. At the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities annual conference, Christopher Edley, dean of UC Berkeley's Law School, said "It's abundantly clear that the bricks-and-mortar model is unsustainable if we want to preserve our mission." The University of California projects a $4.7 billion budget gap over the next ten years. Edley maintains that 25,000 new students could be served online for $50 million, but would also generate $180 million for the system. His pilot program of online courses is designed to generate revenue the UC badly needs simply to survive. This practical acknowledgment is echoed in a report from the Legislative Analyst's Office, “Using Distance Education to Increase College Access and Efficiency,” which urges college administrators to increase college access by offering more online classes.

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