Motives Matter

The California Faculty Association, which represents “professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches” in the CSU system, has a draft of educational principles titled “Quality Higher Education for the 21st Century.” The principle most relevant for our purposes here is this one:

Quality higher education in the 21st century will incorporate technology in ways that expand opportunity and maintain quality.

This statement stands in opposition to the view that technology — and online education in particular — will help “save vast sums of money.” The drafters of this statement go on to say that

When online technologies are used for higher levels of teaching rather than simply for drill or transfer of information, cost savings quickly evaporate. In fact, many faculty who are proponents of and experts in online education argue that teaching a good online course is more labor-intensive and thus more costly than more traditional formats.

I’m not sure about the comparison here, but I would agree that good teaching — whether with or without technology — is a time-consuming, labor-intensive affair. The forces in the university who think we can package and automate (or outsource) quality instruction via technology are deluding themselves.

Online education is unavoidable. It’s going to happen. But if our primary motive is cost and efficiency, it’s going to suck. If, instead, we do it to increase access and opportunity for students, then it might just work.

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