Monday, November 8, 2010

Are online courses dumbed down?

I went to a faculty forum for online classes, attended by a provost, many deans, as well as faculty that will be teaching such classes (like me). There is a big, big push this year (actually a pull--they are enticing us with money) for tenure/tenure-track faculty to teach online summer classes.

Two senior faculty discussed their experiences and gave some thoughtful advice. It was a pretty good forum.  So I'm coming along to the idea of online classes.

Except for one thing.  Both profs noted that they found that they couldn't shift the writing assignments from the semester course to the 5-wk online summer course. Students just couldn't keep up, for example, with 7 papers in 5 weeks.  So mid-semester they cut down the number of papers, in response to student complaints.

Doesn't that imply that summer school is easier (he said this would have been the case for any summer class)?  And why in the world can't the student write 7 papers in 5 weeks if they could write them in 15 weeks?  They are only taking 1 or 2 classes in summer.

Well, I REALLY touched a nerve by asking if this were the case.  The faculty weren't bothered by it (and several nodded their heads at the question).  But oh my did the summer/online administration get defensive!  And no, they did not suggest that student culture/expectations needed to be addressed.  Their main response was that, well, not all classes are appropriate for online teaching.

 New York Times has a recent article on the growth of online classes, especially at public universities.

Do you all have any insights?  Is your university/college pushing for online courses? In summer only (like my U) or all year round?


  1. Our summer term is 8 weeks as compared to the "regular" semester's 15, so it makes sense to do less writing because it's going twice as fast. That being said, I definitely don't think it's easier! :) It's sort of like an accelerated version.

    I've been teaching online for awhile, and there are pros and cons. It is different, most especially in the interactions between students and faculty. But I really like it, and it serves a population of people who could not take the course any other way very well.

  2. That's so great to hear that you're enjoying it. It is new at my U, and I don't have anyone to ask. Our summer classes are 5 weeks--seems crazy fast.

  3. And our summer terms are 3 weeks. I had to fight to get my course for majors over 6 weeks (2 terms). The U makes lots of money with online courses and so getting in 4 3-week terms in the summer is seen as important. Most students want the 3-week session, but confess--after actually taking the class--that it's not enough time. I set up the course differently than in a face-to-face class, but they have just as much work--it's just different to reflect the different setting and the shorter term. But, in the day of entitles and rude students, I'm really liking teaching online more and more...

  4. Yep--these online summer courses seem to be big money-makers. Glad to hear people stick to their guns and make students do just as much work. And you bring in another issue--student behavior. At the forum I attended, one of the profs was a political scientist teaching elections. He said that students online were surprisingly polite compared to the in-class debates. Definitely a plus.