Distance learning, the savior of us all: I’m not seeing it

I’m still so skeptical of this. It seems to me that the whole idea of remote classes — through mail or the net — hinges on a VERY shaky assumption: that the primary product of any institution of higher learning is the class, or at least the data that ends up residing in the student’s head at the end of the class. And that delivering those bits to the skulls of people in more efficient fashion is how to make higher education better. I’m simply not convinced.

The Crisis in Higher Education

Learning to collaborate with other students, managing your own life on your own as an adult, finding research opportunities and finding them EARLY, participating in extracurricular activities … ALL of these things are in a lot of ways, much more important than simply “I took a class and got an A.”

And the outside world knows this and won’t waste time telling you.

I was an extremely bright lower working-class kid in an environment almost completely without such opportunities other than the advice to just go to school and get As in class. Let me tell you, the world informed me very quickly and far too late that that meant NOTHING AT ALL when it came to making an impression, and that the wealthier suburban kids with opportunities to work summers in their dad’s lab, meet professors who needed research help, and take dozens of international trips meant a lot more than just who had more bits in their brain. An improved bit-delivery system is not going to make a dent in this.

These classes will take the money of poor and working-class kids, and then the minute they try to trade on the pieces of paper they receive in return, they will find out that the only things that matter are things that the correspondence course or online course cannot and will never deliver: opportunities for research and collaboration with other students in REAL ways and in REAL labs, opportunities to learn to live on one’s own, and actually BEING where the action is. Unless any institution involved in online or distance education recognizes this and takes it into account when designing the distance curriculum, the whole thing is extremely disingenuous.

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