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16 August 2012 @ 08:07 pm
Online, in line, out of line  
I was feeling a bit of a Mrs. Crankypants (that's Dr. Crankypants to my students) the other night. I had seen one too many commercials for the for-profit colleges. You know the ones, the ones with graduation rates that hover in the teens. The ones where kids graduate with a load of debt. But my crankiness goes deeper than that since I know the same could be said of some other not for profit higher institutions. What gets me about the commercials runs deeper.

One commercial shows a BRAVE YOUNG MAN swimming against the stream of (ostensibly) dullards who are heading into classrooms. The voice over talks about not wanting to sit and listen to lectures but wanting to set his own course, take classes he wants, get thecacreer he wants. A handful of these rebels are banded together at the end and then the tag line touts this technical institute and how it can help. The other commercial shows an older woman who talks with pride about getting her doctorate from a university known for its online program. She is purportedly an educator. So, what was gnawing at me?

In the first commercial, I sort of resent the young man who thinks he knows better what he needs. He should be permitted to elect when and where and how and what should comprise the education that will provide him with a career. Yes, I know not everyone needs the same lock-step course load. But, really, there are still some fundamentals aren't there? I am finding later in life that those classes in history and philosophy and psychology are coming in handy. Perhaps it is good, then, that they were part of my core curriculum? I do use them more than the Algebra and Calculus classes (though I have been able to help the various residents of the back bedroom because I took math and science, too).

The second commercial niggles at me more. Let me state first that I do teach mostly online graduate classes and have for years. I taught one totally online this summer for YALSA and my university classes carry an optional one day (now half day) workshop at the beginning of the semester. All the rest of online. So, I work in the medium. I am even volunteering to do more webinars and even try my hands at a MOOC. But I do question someone who gets an advanced degree, especially in education, and does so in an online format. Where is the interaction with students? With colleagues? Real hands on time?

Before you barrage me with the "but here is how it works and why" responses, though, let me talk about two recent experiences that were FTF. I spent a day with Alaska school librarians in a FTF format. It was rewarding in a way an online class has never been. I could see when they were engaged, when they understood, when they had questions (plus we used a back channel so they could pose questions and make comments all day). I had a doctoral class this summer that met FTF for 50% of the class time. I learned so much during that time, something that somehow is lacking in such depth in an online situation.

I know as I get more and more experience with the medium it will improve. But I want to drag my heels a bit and keep the FTF, the human contact alive. That is why I went into the field of education in the first place. Today I had a 3 hour lunch with one of my friends and colleagues; we talked MOOCS and technology (and books) and it was so invigorating. A couple of months ago, I had a 4 hour dinner with Donalyn. Tomorrow I have lunch scheduled with my best friend and librarians, Lois. Now you might think I live for the food, but really I live for the FTF time, for the spirited conversation, for the humanity of it all.

This post is my attempt to make some sense out of it all. How will I know what I think until I can see what I say? All I know is that I would not trade those FTF classes with Dick Abrahamson for all the tea in China or all the books he and I possess. They made all the difference for me, seeing and being in a class with Kylene and Lois and other colleagues. I do not want to lose that even as I know we have to do more online so that more and more folks can take classes, can get an education. it is a quandary.

And now to your classrooms: is it not the human touch that takes your class from being an ENGLISH class or a READING class to being my third period class or the class with Jimmy and Glen in it? Don't we teach people and not subjects? I do not want to lose sight of that and an online community can sometimes become a subject, an assignment rather than a community. Keep touching those lives, fellow teachers. Send them on to me. I promise to try to do the same.
 
 
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