The Lede, Wednesday, March 7, 2018
By David Royse
It’s an education edition of The Lede. Let’s go to school.
Actually, the overriding theme of this is going to be that the idea of “going to school,” could be, before too long, an outdated idea.
More and more, school is coming to students where they are. Limitations previously placed on students by geographic isolation, lack of mobility or the potential of a lack of educational opportunity in a particular community for any reason may be on the verge becoming problems of the past.
This is hardly a new idea. The online education “revolution” started well over a decade ago and a generation of students has now gone through elementary and secondary education (at least in the West) with at least some familiarity with online educational resources, and for many of them, online classes. Hundreds of thousands of college students have taken online courses. There’s hardly an elementary school student in America who doesn’t do some of his or her homework online.
The idea of a mostly online education isn’t new in a technical standpoint, but only now is it starting to be more broadly accepted by the education establishment as something that is “legitimate,” potentially, in the best cases, on a par with “real live” education.
We’ve been able to offer students a chance to get an education without the need to ever set foot on a campus for some time – but it’s been an outlier. And most people over a certain age would say there are bound to be qualitative differences between an online degree and one from a brick and mortar institution (the fact that we always say “online degree” and not “degree” when describing someone’s “online degree” tells you what I’m trying to say here.)
That may be changing.
Which, if those who are trying to make this a reality are right, could open up the magic of education at all levels to a far wider swath of the world’s population. It also could mean a night-time student stuck in rural West Virginia because of a daytime coal industry job has, at least in theory, the same opportunities to learn from the top professors in a field as a trust fund kid whose parents can send him off to an idyllic college town. A kid in rural Bangladesh has a shot at a degree from the University of Michigan even if she could never actually go to the United States, or if the American government restricts entry by students from elsewhere.
This week, five very well respected universities, three in the United States and two in England, began offering full online degrees through the online platform Coursera, which now offers 10 online degrees. One of the degrees, offered by the University of London, is a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Other new online degrees announced this week are master’s degrees in computer science from the University of Illinois and Arizona State University, a master’s in applied data science from the University of Michigan and master’s of public health degrees from Michigan and Imperial College London.
Finding ways to provide advanced degrees, and education generally, to a broader global population is critical. Just in the health field, for example, WHO asserted recently that 18 million additional health professionals will be required by 2030 to meet the demands of a growing global population. That’s more people than will all fit in the lecture halls of the schools of public health, nursing and medicine.
These new online degrees aren’t the only ones offered by “name” educational institutions, only the ones announced this week.
But the announcement, including as it does prestigious institutions like Michigan, may signal that we’re close to realizing a vision by some that online education won’t be considered inferior.
The announcement comes in the same week that another prestigious American institution, Purdue University, announced it has acquired Kaplan University and will start a new “university” called Purdue Global that will greatly expand its online offerings.
There are those (many, actually) who say that online education is inferior.
And in some places where online education has expanded, it’s been poorly overseen (it’s pretty easy to see how fly-by-night online “education” companies could get in on this). The graduation rate from virtual charter schools in Pennsylvania, for example, is a horrible 48 percent
And there are still plenty of hurdles – none of these new online degrees is cheap – the broader acceptance of online education hasn’t done anything about the issue of the expense of college in the United States.
And there remains a large broadband gap, with entire areas even in the United States, without adequate internet access. (Elon Musk and a few others have an idea about that, BTW – of course he does)
But the idea of making quality education more broadly available seems like a good idea whose time has come. And it seems to have come.
A couple more items for your (online) reading pleasure on this
The first one issues a note of caution: Can Online Learning Level the Playing Field for Rural Kids?
The second looks back at the beginnings of the idea for putting learning out into the internet ether – the original idea for MOOCs, or massive open online courses, a beginning that involved the University of Michigan, as a founding partner in Coursera.
James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation at Michigan argues at Inside Higher Ed that online learning is ultimately going to lead to the creation of the “global, inclusive, public research university.”
One of the biggest proponents for increasing online education is U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
She’s coming at it from a school choice perspective – and DeVos gets lots of criticism from the community of American public school educators, in part because, they argue, she seems to be interested in any idea for education that doesn’t come from the traditional public school community.
Those coming from a public school perspective, and those coming from outside the traditional public school model – including DeVos – were together this week at South By Southwest Education in Austin – though it seems there’s a huge gap in trust that makes finding common ground on solutions for better education tough.
NOTES FROM THE AGE OF DISRUPTION
May be on the verge of getting some protection from local bans on its business model in Indiana. Ledetree
Is at the center of the fight over 5G’s future. New York Times
Is contemplating building a space plane. Washington Post
Alexa Finds This Whole Thing Funny. You May Find it Creepy. Bloomberg
Has raised nearly a half billion in new funding from Saudi Arabia. TechCrunch
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In honor of the widening acceptance of online education, I’ll throw it to Alice Cooper to take us out. “No more pencils, no more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks…. We got no class.”