Sunday, April 14, 2013

The New York Times Weighs In

In a March 30, 2013 editorial The New York Times led off with the following regarding the crisis facing California's Public Higher Educational System:
"Even before the recession hit, the public colleges and universities that educate more than 70 percent of the nation’s students were suffering from dwindling state revenue. Their response, not surprisingly, was to raise tuition, slash course offerings and, in some cases, freeze or even reduce student enrollment. The damage was acute in California, whose once-glorious system of higher education effectively cannibalized itself, shutting out a growing number of well-qualified students.
"The same California State Legislature that cut the higher education budget to ribbons, while spending ever larger sums on prisons, now proposes to magically set things right by requiring public colleges and universities to offer more online courses. The problem is that online courses as generally configured are not broadly useful. They work well for highly skilled, highly motivated students but are potentially disastrous for large numbers of struggling students who lack basic competencies and require remedial education. These courses would be a questionable fit for first-time freshmen in the 23-campus California State University system, more than 60 percent of whom need remedial instruction in math, English or both."
I am pleased that The Times has weighed in in this way. Online courses have their place as an adjunct to traditional face to face courses, but they are no panacea. They are most appropriate for students who are highly motivated and experienced. The ones who massive open online classes (MOOCs) are being marketed to, however, are in large numbers, the least experienced and who get the least out of such offerings. Check out the entire editorial and its commentary on other ill-considered schemes here.