This morning I came upon two news stories that reinforce the idea I mentioned in a previous post that the days of professors standing in a classroom, talking to students who are sitting there, are numbered.   "If we continue to think of teaching primarily as knowledge delivery we may be hastening our own demise as a profession."  First, an AP story reported that the Idaho Board of Education has approved a plan to require all high school students to take at least two credits online.  The story said that Alabama Florida, and Michigan already require some online learning; "Idaho would be the first to require two credits online."  Why the new requirements for online learning?  Is it because the research shows the superiority of that form of learning?  Nope.  According to the story, the purpose is to "save money and better prepare students for college."  It appears as though online learning is here to stay in colleges, and high schools are getting in line.

This story got me thinking that it won't be long before the economy of online education, and the ability of online education to provide information and help students develop skills, is growing.  But then I thought:  The end of the live classroom experience is not imminent.  After all, as Tamar Lewin says in a recent New York Times piece, "Harvard and Ohio State are not going to disappear any time soon."  And online technology is still in its infancy.  There are problems that need to be worked out, such as academic honesty.  Right?  And that's when I read the second story of the day:

            The Chronicle of Higher Education, reported that Western Governors University, a very successful online university with no traditional class and no traditional faculty, is providing all its students with "a free Webcam, part of an extensive monitoring program ... to make sure test-takers are who they say they are."  Thus, higher education is finding solutions to at least some of the problems of online teaching.

            If these two developments, and others, bode well for online education, there may indeed be a smaller role for live classroom teaching and live classroom teachers.  Now don't get me wrong:  I'm not saying online education is necessarily a bad thing.  However, it does suggest that we (meaning higher-ed types) need to think carefully and critically about what educating is for, and the relative benefits and costs of online, live, and hybrid instruction.  We also have to think carefully about how we're training the next generation of professors.  Are we teaching classroom techniques and strategies that will be obsolete by the time our most promising undergraduates are college professors themselves?

            I can't wait until tomorrow's news to learn more.


Mitch Handelsman is a professor of psychology and a CU President's Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado Denver and the co-author (with Sharon Anderson) of Ethics for Psychotherapists and Counselors: A Proactive Approach (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).

© 2011 Mitchell M. Handelsman. All Rights Reserved

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