Showing posts with label online instruction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label online instruction. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Harvard University will go online this fall but will charge full tuition: $49,000 a year to take courses on your home computer

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard University announced that all undergraduate classes will be taught online this fall. Harvard will allow only 40 percent of its undergraduates to live on campus, including all of its first-year students.

As several people have pointed out, Harvard's decision to teach students online this fall will prompt other universities to reassess their own teaching plans for the fall semester. After all, if mighty Harvard, with its $40 billion endowment, has thrown in the towel regarding face-to-face instruction, then many other colleges will surely follow suit.

Who are we--mere mortals--to question Harvard? Nevertheless, I don't understand the point of bringing first-year students on campus if they are going to be huddled over computers in their dorm rooms when taking classes. Why not let Harvard students stay home with mom and dad if they are not going to see their professors?

Harvard and other elite universities will weather the pandemic if it doesn't stretch on too long.  People who get admitted to Harvard will gladly accept any inconvenience to put Harvard University on their resumes. And, for a short time at least, Harvard can get away with teaching its courses online while charging full tuition--$49,000 a year!

But experts predict that the second- and third-tier colleges will see fewer students this fall. And those students will likely take price into account when choosing their schools.  After all, if students are going to be denied a traditional college experience—student clubs, dorm life, opportunities to develop romantic relationships—why not enroll in the cheapest school?

Without a doubt, most universities will have a lot of empty dorm rooms on their hands this fall, which means a significant loss in revenue. Privately owned student-housing complexes will also have vacant units, and many of these complexes were built with borrowed money.  The savvy cats who expected to make tidy profits on so-called luxury student housing may have trouble making their mortgage payments.

The coronavirus pandemic makes a lot of recent university projects look silly. Louisiana State University, for example, spent $85 million on a student recreation center that includes a climbing wall and a "Lazy River" water feature shaped like the university's initials. It looked like a smart move at the time, and the center was financed with student fees.

Now the Lazy River no longer seems so attractive.  Instead, it just looks like a great place to contract COVID-19.

Wigglesworth Hall at Harvard: Be sure to bring your home computer

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Second (and kinder) thoughts about distance learning at the universities during the coronavirus pandemic

Not long ago, I commented on the mass shift to distance learning at American universities, which were forced to close their campuses last March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Disappointed students sued more than 50 colleges about the transition, arguing that the quality of their education had deteriorated when face-to-face instruction was suspended. I commented that the students were surely right and that distance learning is indeed inferior to traditional modes of teaching.

Since I wrote that commentary, however, I taught a course as an adjunct at my former university, and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.  I delivered this course using two distance-learning tools: Moodle and Zoom.

With Moodle, I was able to post all my reading materials and communicate with my students about their assignments. Using Zoom, I met with a small group of students in "real-time," and we were able to discuss court cases very much as if we were all in the same room. 

This positive experience with distance learning caused me to revise my views. I now believe that most colleges can maintain the overall quality of their instruction, even if they are forced to rely heavily on distance learning in the upcoming fall semester. But I still believe something will be lost if universities rely too heavily on technology.

 Zoom, I learned, is an excellent way to meet with small groups of students who are in different places. I think seminars and small-class settings taught through Zoom or a similar product can continue with little loss in quality.

And it seems to me that large lecture classes will not be adversely affected if professors give their lectures by video.  After all, one of my first classes as an undergraduate more than 40 years ago had 700 students enrolled. I was given an assigned seat at the back of the auditorium and could hardly identify the gender of my professor.  Delivering video lectures may actually be an improvement over having instructors drone on to hundreds of students in a cavernous auditorium.

I am still skeptical of so-called asynchronous teaching, where the professor presents students with canned instructional units without ever having any personal interaction with them. In my view, this kind of education amounts to little more than a correspondence course.

I am also skeptical about distance-taught instruction that assesses student performance through pass-fail grading.  It has been my observation that all rigor goes out the window when a professor is grading students on a pass-fail basis. It is almost impossible to fail anyone when the assessment standards are so relaxed, and it is absolutely impossible to reward students who excel in their classes.

And I continue to be opposed to academic programs that are delivered entirely online. After all, who believes that an undergraduate degree, a master's degree. or a doctoral degree that is offered entirely online is in any way comparable to an academic degree taught traditionally on an actual college campus?

I wish all the colleges well as they adjust their academic programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  I think most of them can deliver instruction this fall through various distance-learning formats without too much loss in quality.

Nevertheless, most students choose their colleges based on their perception of what their campus experience will be like. They don't just sit in classes, after all. They live in residence halls, interact with other students, and immerse themselves in all kinds of extracurricular activities. Some percentage of students will not go to college this fall if they can't have a traditional college experience.

Most commentators predict a significant enrollment decline if academic life doesn't get back to normal (or at least close to normal) by the fall semester. I think they are right. And the colleges that will suffer the most are the small liberal arts colleges and the regional public institutions.

This guy should be teaching online.


Monday, May 4, 2020

Angry students sue more than 50 colleges after instruction goes on line in response to the coronavirus

A bunch of black swans showed up this spring, and they landed on top of every college administration building in America.

Last March, virtually every postsecondary institution shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Students who lived in campus dorms were told to scram.  Face-to-face instruction screeched to a halt, and the colleges began teaching their students online. The departing students lost access to professors, libraries, and college recreational facilities.

Most universities refunded dorm fees and student meal plans on a  proportional basis. But the universities didn't refund tuition, arguing that students are still getting fair value because their classes are continuing online.

The students aren't buying it. So far, students have sued more than 50 colleges demanding to get their tuition money back. Online instruction is inferior to interacting with professors in a real classroom, they maintain. And of course, they are right.

The colleges respond, with some justification, that they did not anticipate the coronavirus pandemic and are doing the best they can under the circumstances.   "Faculty and staff are literally working around the clock," Peter McDonough, a lawyer for a college trade group, argued defensively.

I sympathize with the colleges, but I can say with authority that professors don't work around the clock on anything.  If they claim to be working 24/7, they mean they're working 24 hours in a seven-day week.

And if the universities claim their distance-learning format is equal to face-to-face teaching, they are not telling the truth.  A few professors are tech-savvy and can quickly shift to online education, but a lot of them can't.

In any event, America's elite private schools have justified their nosebleed tuition by professing to offer small class sizes and ample opportunities to personally interact with their professors.  They can't credibly change their story now and claim that their online instruction justifies tuition at $50,000 a year.

Regardless of whether colleges win these lawsuits, they will be severely stressed financially in the coming months. One study predicts that four-year colleges could lose up to 20 percent of their fall enrollment. Any small private school that loses 20 percent of its students this fall will be closed by May.

If you are a professor who works at a small private college, it is time to formulate a Plan B. What will you do if your school shuts down and you are thrown out of work?

And if you are a student who plans to enroll at a small, private school this fall, you too need a Plan B. You need to find out what your institution's financial situation is. You do not want to take out student loans to pay tuition to attend a college that may close before you graduate.

The black swan: Coming soon to a campus near you





Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Bait and Switch: In response to the coronavirsus pandemic, colleges shifted to online instruction. Students aren't happy

According to Investopedia, "Bait and switch is a morally suspect sales tactic that lures customers in with specific claims about quality or low prices . . ." However, once customers are lured in,  "the advertised deal does not exist, or is of far inferior quality or specifications, where the buyer is then presented with an upsell."

When the universities shut down last month in response to the coronavirus pandemic, they sent their students home and partially refunded dorm fees they had collected from students living on campus. They also shifted all face-to-face teaching to online instruction while continuing to charge full tuition.

In essence, the universities engaged in bait and switch. They promised a classroom learning experience, but they substituted an inferior product--cobbled together online classes.

 But many students weren't happy with the change. In their view, online teaching is an inferior product.

Inside Higher Ed told the story of Arica Kincheloe, who took out $50,000 in student loans to enroll in a one-year accelerated program in social service administration at the University of Chicago.
Like most higher education institutions, the University of Chicago canceled on-campus classes and directed faculty to shift to a distance-learning format.

But Kincheloe believes she has been shortchanged. "It's a throwaway--a shortened quarter," she said. "I do not feel like I am getting the same education that I would have otherwise."

Other University of Chicago students agree with Kincheloe.  Fifteen hundred students signed a petition calling for a 50 percent reduction in tuition, and 850 students formed a group that is threatening to withhold their tuition payments.

UChicago administrators don't see a problem with the change. Administrators say students will get full credit toward their degrees even though the instruction has been modified. Therefore, the university will continue charging students full tuition.

The University of Chicago probably considers this controversy a temporary annoyance. All this may blow over if the university returns to traditional on-campus teaching this fall.

But I doubt it.

Private colleges have justified extortionary tuition by arguing that a student's on-campus experience--both curricular and extracurricular--is superior.  Those ivy-covered buildings, those cerebral tweed-coated professors, networking opportunities to mingle with rich people--the elite universities claim the whole package justifies charging tuition as high as $60,000 a year.

But if students are sitting at home taking classes that are little more than correspondence courses, then they might as well go to a less expensive state university.

Likewise, HBCUs are going to have difficulty justifying their existence if their instruction moves to a distance-learning format. As Pearl K. Dowe argued in a recent essay, the survivability of HBCUs "has always been rooted in their commitment to serve, educate and advance Black students in a [physical]space that is edifying, nurturing and empowering." So why would Black students enroll at an HBCU if they're taking their classes online?


I'm not saying the universities intentionally engaged in bait and switch. The pandemic forced them to suspend traditional classroom teaching. But they know that their hastily put-together online classes are a cheap substitute for face-to-face interaction with professors. In fact, many universities have gone to pass/fail grading for online instruction--an implicit admission that this mode of teaching is inferior.

I agree with the University of Chicago students.  The online instruction they are getting is not what they bargained for and is a shoddy substitute. The University of Chicago should slash tuition for the spring semester by 50 percent.

Online instruction is a shoddy substitute for classroom teaching.