Why Colleges (and High Schools) Will Survive

In a previous post I pondered if online courses offered by colleges and universities would eventually kill-off high schools.  This commentary by David Youngberg reminds me that there are still some significant hurdles to be cleared before online education completely replaces anything.  He lists five shortcomings of online classes.

  1. “It’s too easy to cheat.” – self-explanatory
  2. “Star students can’t shine.” – you can’t be nearly anonymous and exceptional at the same time
  3. “Employers avoid weird people.” – a resume full of online courses doesn’t exactly present an image of a punctual, agreeable, team player
  4. “Computers can’t grade everything.” – self-explanatory
  5. “Money can substitute for ability.” – those with the means to get an edge, will

Of his list, I think point #2 may actually be the most problematic.  It’s nearly impossible for a teacher to distinguish between students online, and the bigger the class gets, the greater the distance between teacher and student.  If learning were all that mattered this wouldn’t be an issue, but high school students need to get into college, and college students need to get into grad school, or get jobs.  Students rely (and will likely continue to rely) on recommendations.  For all the educational opportunities that surround us, we still live in a it’s-not-what-you-know-but-who-you-know world.

The utter inability of massive online courses to provide students with a strong recommendation is shown by Aaron Pallas in his brilliant letter of recommendation satire.  The first paragraph:

“I’m pleased to recommend the person who identifies herself as Amy Clayton in my [online course] of 11,389 students, Education and Society. I have known Ms. Clayton since she began the course on May 16, 2012 at 4:15 a.m. Her avatar visited the class website regularly, and its eyes were wide-open, indicating her close attention to the class. She—or her friends and family—completed 80 percent of the course, including two multiple-choice quizzes and an exam requiring her to cut and paste content from PowerPoint slides into a textbox. She was a fine student, with a class rank of 2,101 in the course, plus or minus 657.”


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