npr does online courses

NPR’s Larry Abramson began a two part series this morning on Morning Edition on the growing trend of students taking courses online (according to a new Sloan-C survey, nearly 1 in 5 students take at least 1 online course). The first report is called “Online Courses Catch On in U.S. Colleges.” Abramson offers a surprising balanced report on the benefits and drawbacks (though, these were weaker, I think) of teaching online from the perspective of two college professors and one or more students.

The piece, however, does tend to fall back on the typical tropes of teaching, for example:

The process looks kind of awkward — the natural flow of a regular class is missing, as responses arrive onscreen in a digital flood. But at second glance, there’s something else here not seen in a regular college class: All of the students are paying attention and all are engaged.

Later he states that the professor “is part of the show” of face-to-face classes. Stating that students are “paying attanetion” and “are engaged” recapitulates several unfortunate ideas about what education is, notably that education is when students are listening attentively to the teacher espousing knowledge and that, for the most part, students are not engaged in their classes. Rather, it would have been nice if Abramson described the active learning experience (or, as he calls it, “a digital flood”) that is taking place is the classes he reports on, where the synchronous medium is encouraging all students to express their ideas, voices, etc—something that often does not happen in face-to-face discussions.

Tomorrow Abramson is going going to investigate the “growing sophistication of how to teach effectively online,” so perhaps he will address some of these issues.

I must say, however, that it is nice to see that at least one media outlet is catching up to what we have known for many years—synchronous and ansychronous communications enhance teaching and learning.

Update 12/2/07: The second installment is called “Illinois Schools Look to Tech Tools to Teach.”

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