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Margaret Wente on Coursera and online learning; G&M article

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By Rory McGreal July 19, 2012 - 2:08pm

Below is my response to comments made on Margaret Wente's article in the G&M.


Online learning may not replace the paradigm of in person discussions, impromptu debates, and demonstrations you can touch in face to face learning? Are you serious in believing that this is happening generally in traditional universities? Are you kidding or just remembering your few classes that had these experiences? In person discussions are NOT the norm in traditional universities. They are the exception - a good exception, but not what most students experience in most classes. Impromptu debates - very rare. Touchy demos are also rare. And, the term "face-to-face" is misleading. There is NO face-to-face in university classes of 100s of students. It is face to 100s of faces - there is nothing personal about that. You are positing an "ideal" university model against the reality of online learning. This is a straw dog argument.
  On the other hand, there is a growing body of research showing that online discussions can be more effective than classroom discussions, that impromptu debates are becoming more common online than in person (like this one!) and online computer simulations can be an effective tool for learning. Touch laboratories are important, but you can't do them neither online nor in a classroom. You have to go to the lab.
  Quality control is a major feature of online learning. In many if not most traditional universities the  only quality control is to find a PhD and put him/her in a classroom. Teacher training is not considered important, nor is contol over what the prof does in the classroom. In online courses, the teachers have to have a minimum of training and often get much more and there  courses are open to scrutiny and usually recorded.