In a previous post last month, I proposed an experiment whereby a number of core courses (think Psychology 101, for example) would be taught online, perhaps to several thousand students at a time at a number of collaborating universities. I received a few thoughtful comments, but the proposal didn’t get quite the airing I had hoped. I also was a bit scant on some of the details of this hypothetical experiment, so consider this a second kick at the can.
First, I chose first-year foundational courses because there is the greatest possibility of achieving some economies of scale in program delivery because of the numbers involved. It might also be a good way to introduce students, right in first year, to the potential of online learning (assuming you believe in the potential of online learning).
The curriculum would be devised through a collaborative effort of faculty members in that discipline, at the participating institutions, who have a particular interest in pedagogical innovation. Ideally, the experiment would be funded through a research grant with the outcomes followed, rigorously studied and built upon.
The emphasis of the courses would be online content delivery, likely through recorded lectures but also using other online methods and media (mobile technology, perhaps?). I am far from an expert in this area, so I leave it to others to propose their ideas. The courses should also emphasize collaboration and peer-to-peer learning. The online content could be supplemented by study groups, labs or team projects to have students meet and work face to face.
Of course, an open question to such a proposal is whether it would actually be less costly to deliver. I don’t have an answer to that, but I do think universities need to find ways to lower costs. One could argue that teaching resources is not the place to start looking for cost savings at universities, and that’s a legitimate view. But let’s leave that discussion for later and assume simply that budgets are tight and every area of the institution will be called on to do their part.
One commenter to my earlier post was horrified by the proposal (actually, “frightened” and “astounded” were the words she used). She also asked, sarcastically and rhetorically, “Why stop at regional networks for an online course, why not have one course for the whole country?” My simple response is that, education being a provincial responsibility, that is not going to happen. But why, indeed, could there not be something like a province-wide “core curriculum consortium,” run by universities, that delivered a series of optional foundational courses online for all to take?
Note that I am not advocating, nor believe, that online delivery is the great “disrupter” it has been promoted to be, nor do I believe that it will one day replace the campus experience – which, for the record, I feel is an invaluable component of a university education, as is face-to-face learning with engaged faculty. But this proposal is only for a few first-year courses. There would still be lots of opportunity in the smaller, upper-year courses for classroom-based teaching and learning.
That’s my pitch. Your thoughts?