Saturday, May 03, 2008

A Surreal Moment from Cyberspace Education

On a campus somewhere in the physical world...

Hello, Dr. Screen!

Hello. Have we met before?

I'm one of your students.

Really? Well, I have had so many, it is hard to remember all of them.

I took your Philosophy 101 class class term.

Oh, the on-line class?


I think I remember your photo on your ID from the class roster. But wasn't your hair blue then?

Yes, I change it quite a bit.

Didn't you post something about Socrates?

Ah, well, actually, no. I did post something about Kant, though.

I see...ah...

I really liked your recorded lectures. The technology was terrific.

Thank you.

I told a philosophy professor friend of mine that I took your class and he was very impressed. He says you are an expert on Pascal.

I have written quite a bit about him, yes.

Well, I'm really happy that I took a class from someone so distinguished. It will look really cool on my application to graduate schools.

Best wishes on that.

I have a question before you go.


Will you write me a recommendation for graduate work in philosophy?



If you cannot see how absurd this situation is, I'm not sure what to say. How can there be a student-teacher relationship in the classic sense within this kind of situation. There is no mentor/mentee dynamic. Dr. Screen has never met the student and vice versa. Of course, he is in no position to write a recommendation. The student cannot really claim to be the students of Dr. Screen, only the partaker of his data and the receiver of his grade.


Sarah Scott said...

If the online student is "lucky", he will be able to participate in an online "debate" (how can they seriously call it this?) where he posts a power-point, reads his opponent's power-point, then types an e-mail reaction and later a e-rebuttal.

So much for oratory and rhetoric, among other casualties.

Keith said...

Doug, I can appreciate the humor here. It does present a serious problem for online education. I think as it grows up it will find ways to confront issues like this. I hope technology allows us the chance to grow. However, I fear we won't have faculty to teach courses online in most of the classic disciplines. They would rather ride their PhD's down with a sinking ship (brick and mortar education) that requires external funding (which for most schools means distance education) to keep it alive than to try to work with what is out there, and the huge demand from adult students. It is ironic that the purist faculty at many smaller, non endowed schools can only do their research, and take their sabbaticals due to the extra revenue produced through online education (no matter how few students it has it still produces serious revenue for many CCCU schools). It is also ironic how many faculty complain about this delivery system while lining up to teach courses due to the quick payday for them. The only uncomfortable part of this is when the faculty think the students actually care who they are and think they are taking a class because of them. They will soon find out the faculty had nothing to do with why they are taking this course.

Also, there is one huge assumption in your post which is flawed. You make an assumption that a student who is doing their bachelors degree online is interested in doing a graduate degree in philosophy (or any research discipline). If there were a handful of students interested in a Masters degree in philosophy doing online BA work now I would be shocked. The primary motivating factor As I said above they could care less whether some distinguished faculty is teaching the course or their TA. They want the credit for the course as the degree in and of itself is a means to an end...especially for adult learners. This will cause you to cringe, but it is the truth. Aside from the chance to meet their spouse I don't see how this is any different than most undergrads at residential campuses, but you may disagree with that. Online learners have E-Harmony for that :)

I do appreciate the scholarship that comes out of the residential research institutions. What bothers me is how ridiculous academic purists are in their approach and ignorance to what online education is. There is a debate that needs to happen, but at this point is is equivalent to what Buzz Bissinger has to say about blogs...complete ignorance on the side of the opponent. If your only solution is to do away with it then you will unfortunately be a part of a sinking ship. I would encourage some understanding of what online education is, and some proposals for what it can be.

Doug Groothuis said...

Thanks for your thoughts.

You presume ignorance on my part that is not there. I have studied on line learning and continue to read on it. Many are now saying it is not what they hoped it would be. It is intrinsically flawed because of its impersonal nature. I am not very concerned about the economic issues, but rather the pedagogical realities.

If being a "purist" means staying true to my studied ideals, so be it. However, I do adapt and learn to use technology. I use a web page for all my classes, for example, and have even put audio of my lectures on line. However, the students are required to attend class live and in person. The audio is there for re-listening (since it is a tough class: apologetics) not as a substitute for not being there. Being there is rather important.

Keith said...

Doug, I appreciate your heart, but your comment regarding pedagogy is almost comical. However, it is in line with theology/philosophy faculty who think that them standing in front of a class for an hour "banking education" in a sage on the stage didactic manner is a superior form of education.
If that is not your manner of pedagogy I apologize for the generalization, but you are in the clear minority for your discipline. I am not quite sure what you have looked at in regards to distance ed, but it would seemingly be correspondence education and not online, interactive education. The form of pedagogy that the good online programs use are a much sounder form of collaborative education than we see in most brick mortar institutions.
What can't be had in online education is office discussions between prof and student. That, in my estimation is where recommendations are gained, not in minor comments in class (which can be had in online education) and strong papers (which are also had in online education). However, a good program will find ways to build relationships with students and faculty. I look forward to talking further about this.

Jim Pemberton said...

I suppose the professor could just e-mail his recommendation to the automated enrollment office at the online graduate school this student no doubt hopes he never has to visit. He could always hang his diploma in his Office suite on his desktop so that anyone who visits his site can see it. Of course, he is only allowed to use it online.

This makes me wonder: To what extent does this parody an argument for or against existentialism? His existential self imagines that this diploma has some sort of substance although it doesn't really exist. "Oops, the server crashed and the backup failed. We have no records of your academic achievements. Go talk to your professor. After all, he is your academic mentor and would be familiar with you because you have a relationship whereby he can guide your thinking to not merely impart information, but to properly discover and handle information on your own. What's that? You don't know your professor? We don't know you."

It seems like a certain rabbi once warned that a statement similar to that last sentence would be used with regard to the eternal condition of some individuals. I think there's a parallel there.