[iDC] Why do we need physical campuses?

Stian Håklev shaklev at gmail.com
Thu Jun 10 05:27:27 UTC 2010

> Online learning makes sense for all kinds fo reasons: financial,
> equity/access, scalability, etc. But...online (distance) learning is still
> the unloved stepchild of education. Is the resistance cultural? Or related
> to the perceived value of learning in physical spaces?

I think part of the problem is that right now, universities are mainly
evaluated and ranked based on research… Or even exclusivity, how many
applicants can we reject. This means that University of Toronto is the most
prestigious university in Canada, and Athabasca barely registers. There was
an “overflow” online component for a class I took in my undergrad at UofT,
basically we paid exactly the same as the others, and instead of going to
class (with 300 others), we got to sit at home and watch tiny little
postage-stamp sized videos, two hour long, of the entire lecture (mostly
consisting of jokes, and stories about his field research fifty years ago).
Then there were two exams, both multiple choice! There was no discussion
forum, no way of interacting at all with others in the class…

So yeah, if that's your only experience with distance ed, then I can
understand you'd be negative (maybe even as negative as Ginandtaco is in his
review of DIY U: "No one who has taken or taught one [distance course] can
claim in earnest to have learned more than they do in traditional courses.
Few could honestly claim that they learned anything at all. …"
This is also what leads many students in China and India who want to do
distance education to not go to the open universities, which in both
countries have long histories, and much experience in developing online
courses, but rather choose the online components of established universities
(Delhi University, Renmin University), which often treat it only as a
cash-cow, and don't put much effort into making it an effective learning
experience. But when you go to an employer with a diploma from those two
schools, it looks much better.

ICT has progressed enough over the last decade that I think we can largely
> do away with the physical space of universities. Open Universities have
> greatly impacted developing countries and the intellectually curious in
> remote parts of the world (as is commonly cited, Nelson Mandela studied via
> distance). If a government's goal, and the spirit of a society, is to
> promote equity and broad access to learning, the online learning should be
> an area of primary investment.

It was cited at a conference I attended that 60% of all the indigenous
students in the US who receive masters, do so through online learning.
(Because they cannot easily move away from their communities, where they
have both responsibilities and support). There was actually a wonderful
presentation by a current PhD student at U of New Mexico, who did her entire
MA online, and is doing a full-time face-to-face PhD. She said she sometimes
felt cheated, because she got so much better interaction out of the MA...
there everybody contributed, and she got to know all of the students. In her
PhD classes, usually it's just the teacher, and the few most eager
students... Such a rare perspective, and I encouraged her to write something
about her experience.

Part of the problem is also that it's very difficult to innovate when
everyone are constantly paranoid that you are just trying to cut their job,
or marginalize you. Like the Texas academics screaming about having to post
their syllabi online! (http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php?topic=68804.0),
or the labor union at UofT, which succesfully stopped a professor from
experimenting with peer-grading in a massive enrollment first year psych
course (which had had no writing component before), because "only unionized
staff are allowed to grade".


http://reganmian.net/blog -- Random Stuff that Matters
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