Online Courses vs. Class Room Teaching: Self-improvement vs. Self-formation

“At Ursinus College, where I teach, the faculty and administration work individually and collectively to help our students cultivate judgment…College should be a transformative experience for them, and they will need guidance.”

“In a classroom setting, peer review can work wonders. With a teacher’s guidance, students learn to evaluate complex material, to criticize and to benefit from criticism, and to participate in a community that takes ideas and their expression seriously. But “peer assessment in a class of thirty is very different than peer assessment in a class of several thousand,” in which a teacher cannot oversee the difficult transformation of a student into a critic and of a class into an intellectual community. In our MOOC, no such transformation was needed because “essay” questions called for brief, simple answers, easily checked against a key, and we were not required to explain the grades we assigned.”

Coursera and similar products are, for the most part, not designed to replace the kinds of undergraduate institutions that catch students during a period of momentous change in their lives, and respond to their need to discover and bring to completion their best mature selves. The strongest such institutions feature a faculty and staff who have deliberated about how to respond to that need, and who marshal the resources of the college, inside and outside of the classrooms, to fulfill their missions. Coursera offers, instead, classes and teachers united by nothing apart from its platform to students who are expected to know what they want and to pursue it with minimal guidance. In this sense, while Coursera’s mission of open access is democratic, its education is elitist, designed for those who already possess the judgment, independence, and discipline to teach themselves well. One thing I learned from Professor Emanuel’s course is that colleges like mine have little to fear from Coursera and its cousins. They are in the self-improvement business. We are in the self-formation business.”

Abstracted from “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Disruption?” by Jonathan Marks, author of Perfection and Disharmony in the Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Cambridge University Press, 2005), is associate professor of politics at Ursinus College.
Article Source: Inside Higher Ed

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