The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #99: Online Education

General Introduction
- Ooh, he card read good!
– Listener feedback
– Amish on the beach
– We’re on Stitcher

The History of Distance Education
- Correspondence schools
– For-profit universities
– Dropout rates
– Pragmatic focus
– Night schools
– Radio and television
– Comic books

Techniques and Emulations
- The presence of multiple others
– Audio and text chat
– Variants
– Pre-loaded lectures
– Internet vs. lecture hall

Our Criticisms
- The connection to for-profit universities
– Inherent in the medium?
– The path of least resistance
– Brains in jars
– The discussion board and the seminar room
– Technical issues
– Godwin’s Law and the classroom
– Lack of motivation

Part-Time Online Education
- David gets monkish
– Be realistic
– Online education and the encyclopedia
– Different or inferior?
– Tragic decisions

MOOCs
- A glorified podcast?
– Khan Academy
– Vs. online classes
– Publicity for small schools

This Podcast
- Are we hypocrites?
– Half a MOOC
– What we intend to replace
– Educating the barbarians

19 comments
CarterS
CarterS

Another excellent episode, gentlemen. Had a few thoughts to contribute. An interesting connection with distance learning is with home schooling. My "high school" was a school that was at once a boarding school, and at the same time fielded a correspondence program for home school families. This was an attempt to equip parents with a more robust curriculum and structured guidance, while still preserving the advantages of home schooling. I had to take standardized tests, received a diploma, etc. Its major disadvantage was also its major advantage, that being that an older high school student is simply not going to be taught by their parent who doesn't have more than a high school diploma either, and so I was largely self-taught, using the curriculum, through my high school years. This actually helped me in college, as I was far more self-motivated than many of my peers (for the first year, anyway!) Right now I work for a company that uses the same, rather innovative online format David described. The classrooms are virtual, where the students meet with the teacher at specific class times. The class size is limited to 20 students, and the teacher uses a number of visual elements to enhance learning, from power points *shudder* to virtual whiteboards that can actually be written on using a device that can be plugged into your computer. The best part is, they can pull from teachers all around the country, and so get their pick of the litter; some PhD's are even teaching our classes. This has the unfortunate side effect of making poor chaps like me, without professional teaching experience, undesirable, as I found out. At least they let me work in the office! This new technology is very innovative, and I think guards against some of what Michial fears. But, I am still not sold on the system of online education as an exclusive method. Personally I think embodiment is important. For one thing, if nonverbal communication is as important as many say, than why are we so keen to give it up? The brain in the jar argument is valid in this sense, to me. It also does kill smaller schools, as a parent can spend less at our school, and their kid doesn't have to leave the home, all while getting access to more expert teachers than the local school; while gives, it also takes away, so while I'm no Postmaniac, I do see it as a Faustian bargain of sorts.  On another personal note, some of the best interactions I ever had in college were in taking full advantage of a certain professor's office hours, something which you can't much do in the online format. Some seminaries that provide distance and online options have a restriction on how many courses can be taken by that method. This seems like a positive use of the medium, to me; someone can free up their schedule considerably by not taking all courses on campus, it provides a balance to the educational experience, and it also allows the school to regulate which courses are taken in this medium, i.e. Intro to OT is fine to take online, but a course on spiritual formation or preaching is not such a great idea. I even took two science courses online in college, because the on site instructor was, shall we say, a less than stellar adjunct, and I didn't want to waste more time and money than was necessary.

danieljdoleys
danieljdoleys

Gentleman, I have been listening to CHP since Ep1 and am finally getting around to commenting. Two things about online forums: 1. It was brought up as an advantage that online forums often bring out student interaction for some more than seminar discussion might. I might question if this is actually an advantage. I would argue that we are creating and sustaining a problem wherein younger people find their communication outlets primarily through technology. Of course, technological communication can be good, but not if it is allows a student to cover their deficiencies in face to face interaction. The demise formal training in rhetoric has led to generations of students who cannot speak. Moving academic discussion out of the seminar room and onto a computer screen furthers this downfall by allowing those students not inclined toward face to face personal interaction to avoid it. Seminar discussion requires the development of those skills, online forums make them seem irrelevant. I do not think that is a good thing. 2. However, there are many online programs that are moving to real time video lectures and discussions as forms of online education. Here, the teacher is not recorded, but on a live camera feed as are the students. This allows for spontaneity in lectures, face to face discussion, and the advantage of some of the technological helps (raising hands for questions) you all mentioned. I still strongly support in person education over any form of an online classroom, but I see live video feeds as a better middle road than recorded lectures and moderated discussion forums. Any thoughts? Also, how about an episode on the recent rise of Classical Christian education?

ngilmour
ngilmour

danieljdoleys First, many thanks for being a long-time listener, and welcome to the comment boards! As I said to michb below, I tend to be more of a relativist than Michial when it comes to the media in which dialectic happens.  Remembering my own experiences in graduate seminars, and comparing them to some of the exchanges I've had online, there are ways in which I prefer the deliberate pace of online exchanges to the breathe-and-the-point-has-passed pace of the classroom.  I agree with you that in-the-room conversation is a genuine praxis in the MacIntyre sense, but I would argue that the exchange of digital arguments might, before our very eyes, be constituting another form. With regards to the Classical Christian Education episode, I'd have to do some library work, but I could imagine such an episode.  We'll see what happens.

Hrothgar
Hrothgar

"We tend to treat others badly when we cannot observe the personal cost of our behaviour ..." Very true.  I immediately thought "Ring of Gyges".  This is from Herodotus.  (Glaucon is a character in the Republic, of course.)  But now I'm taking advantage of anonymity to embarrass you ... which maybe proves the point.  But, heck, you know a lot more than me about many things, and if I only agree is there any point in posting?  So, well, so what? I'm only about half-way through, but -- more usefully -- what I thought of was the "University of the Air" in Britain (now known as the Open University). http://www.open.ac.uk IIRC, this was set up to provide a university-level education over the "wireless" (radio) for people who missed out on that by one of Harold Wilson's Labour governments.  One relative of mine who was an academic, and who has a very dim view of the Labour Party, says it was the *only* good thing that government ever did.  AFAIK, the standard is pretty high and recognized as such.  They moved to TV broadcasts later on.  By now they're probably using online media -- I don't know.  They used to expect students to listen/watch broadcasts several times a week, read quite extensive hardcopy posted out to them, and meet once a week in rooms made available by local academic institutions.  Periodically, there'd be residential events.  The financial issues mentioned by Michial wouldn't be an issue, because besides the course fees (for those who can afford it) public money is made available.

ngilmour
ngilmour

Hrothgar Actually you're both right.  Gyges in Herodotus doesn't have a magical ring, and Glaucon is a character in the Platonic dialogue (Republic) in which the Ring of Gyges actually occurs.  So between the two of you, getting Gyges and Glaucon together gets you to the point at hand. :)

Hrothgar
Hrothgar

ngilmour Hrothgar I think I went further wrong -- which kind of serves me right for raising the point.  LOL I guess the stories may come from the same origin -- they're both about hiding -- but what's in a name? and there is no ring in Herodotus. Michial would never be blinded by rage.  That'd be Thrasymachus wouldn't it?

ngilmour
ngilmour

Hrothgar ngilmour I'd argue that Plato is aware of Herodotus's story and adds the magic-ring element to heighten the philosophical point.  Gyges in Herodotus is the assassin who acts as fate's instrument to effect the demise of a foolish king.  But he does so with entirely mundane pointy objects; he doesn't need invisibility to get the job done. :)

MichialFarmer
MichialFarmer

Hrothgar Yep, I meant Gyges, not Glaucon. Clearly I was blinded by rage.

michb
michb

The episode was great. But Michael is absolutely correct. You may believe that Technology is neutral, but Colleges only see it as a way of increasing profits. Presenting Kagan, etc is great, but I must confess that some of the worst lectures I slept through were given by tenured giants of my college, while some of the best were delivered by  the non-tenured faculty.  I think Nathan's wife's experience shows that Technology can be used wisely, but I wouldn't count on it. Didn't Bill Gates say something like we could pack even more kids online or in the lecture classroom to increase the "utility" of good teachers?  I think eventually Gates (and why is a Harvard dropout now an education expert?) and his cronies will just hire temps, record them and then charge fees to access the online content.  I mean we all know the end of education is a Job, so just record what's on the test, and let's get on with it! :-)

ngilmour
ngilmour

michb Let me address a couple of points there separately: 1) I don't think that tenured giants should be the content-generators, but I do think that if Donald Kagan is lecturing on ancient Greek history, I'll listen to it, and I'd rather have my students listen to it, then engage in dialogue, than listen to my attempt to reproduce it.  It's the Socratic exchange here that interests me.  Michial, who's a much more skillful lecturer than I am, would likely be less thrilled by that prospect, but I'm forever trying to maximize my class time dedicated to dialectic exchanges. 2)  I agree that Bill Gates can be a turd. 3) As you yourself note, the lecture-hall and even the seminar room have dangers inherent in their media.  That doesn't make either of them "neutral," but I'd submit that it does open up the possibility of teaching in wiser and more foolish manners in all three contexts.

michb
michb

ngilmour michb  You make some good points.  I wanted to raise another issue, not sure what to call it--an effect of good education? You said folks who wouldn't or couldn't engage in person in the classroom would online. First,  I think it's great that the Technology either freed them or forced them to engage, but would you say this is a different engagement than in person in the classroom? And should we let them get away with it? Isn't one of the benefits of education the ability to argue/discuss your opinions in public with other folks? Of course, maybe your students see you as Socrates and refuse to take the bait when you dangle innocent questions!

ngilmour
ngilmour

michb ngilmour You're right that I'm more relativistic when it comes to medium.  As someone who doesn't have a lightning-quick, seminar-room brain, I actually enjoy message-board exchanges where I can walk away, do something else, and reply a couple hours later with a more digested (rather than vomited) thought.  That doesn't make them the same sort of interaction, but I would argue that it makes 'em two different kinds of interaction whose relationship is more complex than one's being "better" and one's being "inferior."

Charles H
Charles H

Personally, I'm waiting for the technology that will just download information directly into my brain.

JohnSager
JohnSager

Charles H - I suspect that the Cartesian model of what learning is is what drives so many of the blind advocates of online education. We really do need to formulate a Heideggerian response.

ngilmour
ngilmour

JohnSager Charles H Honestly, I think that interfaces like the one David described in the episode are something like Heideggerian responses--rather than treating "content" and "form" as easily separable, they're attempting to approximate fthe ontic structures of the classroom experience.

ngilmour
ngilmour

Charles H It's already here, man!  It's called Google!  The problem is knowing what questions to ask, which data to retain, and which to toss out like so much digital garbage.

JohnSager
JohnSager

If I listen tonight, will it inform my class on online learning tomorrow? Probably not, but I'm sure it will be enjoyable. Let's wait and see.

JohnSager
JohnSager

So interesting. The home-schooled one brings the knowledge, optimism and progressivism. Grubbs to the rescue!

JohnSager
JohnSager

Since I live overseas, iTunes is my tv, radio and daily newspaper. I have listened to tons of courses. Let me recommend two great ones from our friends at Cal. Drugs and Behavior by David Presti is amazing. A highly literate scientist who knows his Huxley, Wasson and McKenna and is able to explain the pharmacology in a compelling way. One of his textbooks is the poet Dale Pendell's Pharmacopeia, the first in a trilogy of dense poetic science devoted to drugs and their "powers." Oh yeah, and Presti was the head counselor at the San Francisco VA ... so he can tell a war story in a pinch. Heady stuff! History of Information by Paul Duguid and NPR's linguist Geoffrey Nunberg is actually a great course that this week's discussion would have fit in brilliantly with. As I mentioned before, I found your podcast by doing a general iTunes search for Neal Postman. This course fits in well with the Havelock, Ong, McLuhan, Postman story. I guess you haven't got to Postman yet because you want to do a Postman triptych. I totally understand. Peace and Free Trade, John