November 26, 2012 by John Douglas Belshaw
Surveys regularly tell us that students prefer the classroom to the computer, to have direct interaction with a professor rather than a pc. There are so many ways to poke holes in those results that I’m almost embarrassed to do so. Almost.
First, asking ‘students’ if they’d prefer to be in a ‘classroom’ on campus rather than taking anonline course at home is akin to asking anyone who holds an automobile license if they’d rather be in a car or on public transit. It’s not that one is objectively better than the other, it’s that the group has already self-selected within an environment that promotes one vision over all others.
Even so, think of the many subtle ways in which campus-based post-secondary is promoted –movie sets with ivy-covered libraries, the promise of young adult sexual and substance adventure, varsity sports that might lead to a pro career – and then try to recall one instance where online learning is presented as anything other than … online learning.
To push the earlier metaphor: buses are transportation; a Ferrari, like it or not, is just so muchmore. Ask a cyclist or someone who has elected not to get a driver’s license what they think and you’ll get a different response to the car vs transit question. Ask non-students what they’d prefer – eight o’clock classes every Monday morning or online-anytime-anywhere – and, well, ditto.
Second, “direct interaction with faculty”? Really? Have you seen those 500-seat lecture halls? What sort of “direct interaction” do we think is occurring there? Juxtapose ‘classroom’ (which even I imagine as a smallish room containing no more than 30 people) with ‘lecture auditorium’ and let’s ask the question again.
Besides, and to be fair, professors who shoulder research obligations, governance responsibilities, a bit of voluntarism, and the need to find lunch or take a pee are hard-pressed to hold more than a few office hours each week. Some have a contractual obligation to do so; some do not. Certainly if they had “direct interaction” with most of their students, they would be completely overwhelmed. And, let’s be clear, even ‘teaching-focused’ colleges have 120-180 seat sections of Macro-Economics, Intro Marketing, and Psych 101.
All of which might work if this was 1912 and not 2012. Next week: Go Varsity!