(That’s me, lo almost 4 years ago doing course work for my online MSLIS/MSIS program.)
I’ve never been able to (or really tried) to hide the fact that I went to school online. Was it my first choice? Not exactly, but given my options and my field I think it was the best choice for me at the time. I was worried that somehow my degree would be considered less worthy by my colleagues, but that hasn’t been the case. I still get the weird looks when people make the connection that “attended” a school in Philadelphia whilst living and working in Berkeley, but they get over it quickly. So that’s my background – I am a product of online education, as are several talented librarians. It’s hard to ignore that for many areas, it’s the only option for library school.
There has been a lot of discussion and angst about online programs recently in the area. University of California’s Commission on the Future is looking at ways to maintain access to education in the face budget woes, and they seem to determined that online education is the answer. The pilot is supposed to start with online courses that are required at all the campuses, which makes sense on an economies of scale thing. The Daily Cal and SF Chronicle have talked about it. It’s clear from the mood on campus that people are not happy at the thought. It’s clear that UC is thinking more students means more money, and there are legitimate concerns about the quality of education, but it could help make UC affordable and possible for many students who would otherwise qualify, if it were not for cost. Just yesterday it was announced that fewer Latinos were admitted this past year, while out of state admissions saw a jump. It’s related, naturally.
Then today University Diaries reported about a story in Georgia, where a student is accused of taking tests in online courses for a fraternity. Margaret Soltan’s concern is that with online courses you have no way to verify the students are who they say they are, and why she refers to online education as poor white trash. I can’t really tell how tongue-in-cheek it’s meant to be, being educated in poor white trash manner, but then again I’m not really trying to be too much of an academic. I am in the quasi-ghetto of the library after all.
Regardless, I think there is good reason to be concerned with how academia proceeds with online courses, but that doesn’t make online education and distance learning the end of civilization or the worst thing on the planet. I don’t think Drexel was like the University of Phoenix. (Or maybe I’m lying to myself?) I can’t imagine whatever UC ends up doing will be like something like they advertise in those catchy/annoying Education Connection commercials. I also wonder how much of the concern is legitimate concern for the quality of education for the students, and how much of it is concern about change. Maybe I would feel differently if I took the other path where I because a professor of Historical Germanic Linguistics, and I would be up at arms about how we are ruining the academy. I wish the criticism of online education didn’t have that tinge of elitism that tends to be so entrenched in higher education.
Honestly, when I think about people getting online degrees I think of my classmates. Most of us were either working full-time or raising families and working part-time. The flexibility of the program allowed us to continue to do so and only take out loans for tuition. There are lots of bright students who simply can’t afford to go to university with the current model, yet we as a society keep telling them that college is the answer. We need to change the message I guess.