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Education The Internet

Is Remote Instruction the Future of College? 81

An anonymous reader writes: The Atlantic reports on a new online learning venture called Project Minerva. Its goal is to blend the most effective parts of online and real-life college education. The problem with most online courses is that the vast majority of people who sign up for them never finish — they aren't engaged enough. Minerva is set up to encourage more interaction between a live professor and other students. Quoting: "[A]t first it reminded me of the opening credits of The Brady Bunch: a grid of images of the professor and eight "students" (the others were all Minerva employees) appeared on the screen before me, and we introduced ourselves. ... Within a few minutes, though, the experience got more intense.

Bonabeau began by polling us on our understanding of the reading, a Nature article about the sudden depletion of North Atlantic cod in the early 1990s. He asked us which of four possible interpretations of the article was the most accurate. In an ordinary undergraduate seminar, this might have been an occasion for timid silence, until the class's biggest loudmouth or most caffeinated student ventured a guess. But the Minerva class extended no refuge for the timid, nor privilege for the garrulous. Within seconds, every student had to provide an answer, and Bonabeau displayed our choices so that we could be called upon to defend them." The professor has fine-grained control over the class, and can easily divide students into groups, or link up directly for one-on-one advice. The project hopes that having a professor directly involved (and using modern tools) will bring the online learning experience up to speed with more traditional methods.
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Is Remote Instruction the Future of College?

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  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @11:08AM (#47677869)

    I had to endure 4 years of theoretical and very occasionally practical training that has nothing to do with my job, and only tangentially related to my field. I believe the same is true for most IT-related professionals. Despite course load irrelevance, I would not be able to do what I do without such education.
    Getting education is not about mastering subjects, they are frequently irrelevant to what you end up doing. It is about developing ability to independently study abstract problem outside your knowledge domain and providing you with just enough bare-minimum knowledge that it is possible to self-educate yourself. It is also about ability to cooperate with others to reach a common goal, but that is unfortunately less emphasized aspect. Last but not least, it is about introducing notions that you could fail at something and that you can't be good at everything no matter how hard you try, something our trophies and gold stars grade system miserably fails at.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @11:46AM (#47678291)

    Trophies and gold stars are not what is wrong with college.

    In the past company's used to do in house training and some of the tech / trades schools where spinned off of that.

    And we did not have the college for all push even in the 80's tech / trades schools did not have the as bad of a rap that they have now and they where not trying to be colleges as much as they are now as well.

    We have Community Colleges as well maybe it's time to have the same K-12 cost levels for at least 2 years at them and or offer non degrees classes at the same costs as well.

    The big 4+ year colleges have been picky about college transfer credits and some seem to have profit driven ways of saying you have to retake classes. In some states they have laws saying that they MUST TAKE Community Colleges credits.

    Aso the big Colleges are trying and doing a poor job of trying to be more like tech / trades school to fill the gap from the lack of company's doing in house training.

    At some of the big colleges are loaded with filler and fluff classes as well in the past when costs where lower they where nice to have and well rounded was good but today the costs are to high and the time is to long. At some schools due to way the classes fall and fill up it's hard to get a 4 year degree in 4 years. Some of the filler / fluff is old departments that are useing that keep them relevant.

    There is to much theory and to much put on climbing the Ivory tower at some of the Colleges at the cost of more relevant / hands on skills. At least some of the big colleges do have more relevant / hands on skills with less theory.

    The tech schools do have some theory with more hands on skills and just about no filler / fluff. (other then gen edu)

  • by MacTO ( 1161105 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:00PM (#47678407)

    I recall reading an article in a university rag about 10 years back that was discussing how their campus was designed around telepresence for instruction many decades prior. Unfortunately things didn't go that way because it proved to be ineffective and not what the students wanted. But never fear, it was a great boon in our modern age because TV studios could easily be repurposed to server rooms and the buildings could easily be rewired for computer networks for the age of online learning.

    While they were right about it being easy to repurpose that old infrastructure, they also missed the point: people want to learn on campuses and they learn more effectively on campuses. (At least that seems to be the case for programs of study. Learning particular skills is likely a different matter.) In otherwords, university administrators were forgot the lessons of the 60's and 70's while choosing to believe in some technology utopia.

    That isn't to say that education should be devoid of technology. Computers and networks are clearly valuable learning tools. They have applications ranging from research to simulation, and from content delivery to content creation. The thing is that they're just a tool in the process, and not the core of the process itself.

    Think of it this way: would we go around praising the merits of pencil based learning? Or, to choose something less absurd, textbook based learning? Of course we wouldn't. So why are we going crazy over computer based learning?

  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @12:08PM (#47678467) Journal

    > The future of mass instruction ... because it's the new high school diploma? Sure.
    > The future of tomorrow's entrepreneurs and inventors? Nope.

    I'd say the exact opposite. I've started a few businesses, and sold a couple, working for myself full-time for many years, so I suppose I qualify as an entrepreneur. Two of those companies are based on things I "invented", or at least "innovated", so I suppose I qualify as "entrepreneurs and inventors". I'd take online learning over sitting in a class room any day. In fact, I've gone back to school, and my classes are 100% online.

    I'd think that people who wish come in, to sit at a desk and have their employer tell them what to do are the same people who want to come in, sit at a desk, and have their instructor tell them what to do. Many people like an arrangement where if they show up 40 hours a week and make a reasonable effort, their paycheck is pretty well guaranteed. Wouldn't they also like an arrangement where if they show up to class and make a reasonable effort, their degree is pretty well guaranteed? Online learning tends to be the opposite - it requires self-discipline, it requires deciding for yourself how much you need to study each topic. Much like being an entrepreneur.

    Also, the "entrepreneurs and inventors" I know primarily want to learn a skill they need, as opposed to getting a piece of paper. They (I, certainly) prefer to be able to log in, learn what I need to learn, and move on to the next thing. Sitting in class after class can be maddening for an entrepreneur. For those who prefer being employed, the piece of paper, the degree, is the primary goal, so sitting in class to get the degree is fine. They can sit in class now so they can sit in their office later.

      * Being employed or being an entrepreneur is personal preference, I don't mean to imply that either is "better" than the other.
          If you're young and single, doing your own thing can be fun and exciting. If you have three kids, a steady paycheck and good insurance is the more responsible option.

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe