Students of the Screen: What’s Next for Online Ed?

Nov 05, 2010 |  Ashley Thorne

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Students of the Screen: What’s Next for Online Ed?

Nov 05, 2010 | 

Ashley Thorne

Four articles this week give a window into the debates over online education.

Two NAS professors who have taught online courses - and care about rigorous liberal education - wrote at

David Clemens argues that online education's proper role is as a home for orphaned liberal arts and "boutique" courses for motivated students. In his view, online education is less than ideal, but as more and more institutions cut liberal arts programs, he seeks to "expose students to classic texts about perennial questions" by any means possible.

Jason Fertig advocates the hybrid classroom model, and submits that a combination of online and in-class instruction can help restore academic rigor in college courses. "Why make this issue an all or nothing proposition?" he asks.

Then, in his latest Chronicle blog post, Peter Wood forecasts that online education, either rigorous or at "the level of a video game," will become a standard feature of American college instruction.

A longer article in the Chronicle by Mark David Milliron urges academics to put away tired arguments for and against online education. "We need to end the family feud over learning strategies," he writes. "Particularly for low-income students, the journey to and through our institutions is the pathway to possibility. We owe it to them to steer our conversations about online learning away from the tired 'use it versus don't use it' arguments."


| November 07, 2010 - 12:14 PM

What a lot of people don’t understand, even those supposedly knowledgeable about and/or critical of higher education, is that the standard humanities programs may very well be turning a “profit,” even at public universities.  That is certainly the case at the public university where I study (not in the humanities).  Or so at least I’m informed by people who claim some knowledge of university budget and financial matters. 

It would be interesting for someone to look into the real situation at the high profile cases of public universities dropping humanities programs, e.g. SUNY Albany.  Are those programs really losing money or are the administrators just looking for a way to reduce costs, even with the loss of money-making programs?  (The way to do this is to have the same tuition/state subsidy flow with reduced costs—assuming you don’t lost students when you eliminate programs—a significant if.)  Have the administrators looked at reducing other costs e.g. growing ranks of administrators and “academic support” staff?  Have they looked at better using private funds, including alumni donations? 

Such questions are rarely asked because it is often assumed that dropped programs are expensive money-losers, that administrators have the best academic interests at heart, that there are no other ways of addressing financial difficulties than to eliminate academic programs.  One or more of these assumptions may not be valid at all.