19 November 2008

Online Education: Oversight Needed

Online education has become big business. Cross-border education (referring to the online variety) makes it global big business. Ten years ago, faculties debated whether to put a course or a program online; today, the question is simply, how fast? Regardless of the business model and fee structure, mounting online courses means keeping market share. Not mounting online courses means losing market share.

An Insider Higher Ed story about the continuing increases in online enrollment asks, will faculty follow? The question isn't just about faculty incentives to teach online but also about the basic business model (or not) adopted (or not) by institutions well before the first online class is scheduled. The question of quality comes next. No one can say for sure whether a heavily adjuncted online degree is the most efficient model just as no one can promise that course quality is higher when the teacher of record is on regular faculty.

The article from Insider Higher Ed relates a horror story or two about incentives run amok as well as a couple of business models that appear to be working. I would suggest that most discussions do not warn adequately about just how bad online education can be. (I am a distance educator. I consider the learning to be superior to face-to-face learning. But I am also a realist.)

1. Incentives may induce sign-ups by faculty but may not have a thing to do with the eventual course. Over an EDUCAUSE box lunch, a young instructional designer at a large state university confided to me that she had an ethical dilemma. "Faculty members get release time for two semesters to work with us on a new course. And they get paid a bonus, too. But I never see them after the first meeting and they just choose a textbook with a cartridge."

2. A graduate student at a Campus Technology conference told me of online courses for which senior professors log in once or not at all, perhaps hold a face-to-face seminar, and grant grades based on number of emails in the Inbox.

There is such a thing as a good course cartridge from a publisher and maybe the course quality is adequate at that instructional designer's institution. And university faculties have always included mediocre and even fatally flawed professors. The missing piece in these stories is oversight by administrators who (a) understand the processes of online education, and (b) care.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. Email contact: bold[AT]marybold.com. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as legal or professional advice. Bold is the co-author of Reflections: Preparing for your Practicum or Internship, geared to college interns in the child, education, and family fields. She is a consultant and speaker on assessment, distance learning, and technology.

1 comment:

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