Interesting Reads This Week

It’s all about online education, even when it’s not

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It was a busy week for news, and I had a plethora of articles and posts to choose from. But I am going to start with something that is less an interesting read and more something I read so that you wouldn’t have to.

Antipathy towards online as an option

This week the advocacy group California Competes released a report that is being touted in the press as being a roadmap (which makes sense given the report cover and title) to the future of higher education in California.

The report is actually about online learning. It’s based on interviews with faculty and administrators (many of whom have been & continue to be heavily involved in online learning), and is actually pretty good, if a little thin on data and concrete examples. The report lays out several problems which should be familiar to anyone who had been around higher ed for any length of time: too little collaboration, resistance to change, siloed data, insufficient metrics, etc. The report follows these arguments with descriptions of a future state with which no one would disagree. The substance of the report is all the usual suspects.

Where the report is problematic is in the framing of the issue. This framing is striking because there is a huge disjuncture between the body of the report and the framing. The body of the report acknowledges the fact that online learning is important and is going to be a bigger part of California’s higher education landscape. For example, the report points out that there is a

Bias toward traditional in-person instruction as the gold standard. [and] Perceptions that online education leads to insufficient academic and student support, which undermines the success of underrepresented students

But you have to get past the title and lede to get there. Early on, the report states that:

Stakeholders continue to raise concerns about this mode [online] of learning in California. Examples include the University of California’s (UC) ban of fully online degrees, [and] continued opposition to Calbright College (the state’s online-only community college), and skepticism toward online operators like Western Governors University.

Umm no, they were pointing out the issues that need to be addressed as we move to make it better. Using the examples of UC’s bone-headed decision and Calbright’s rocky start is like saying that because of the Titanic and the Bridge to Nowhere we ought to be skeptical of transportation.

I want to come back to this point and provide a more in-depth post because increasingly I think that while the proximate goal of much of what is coming out of Department of Education and aligned think tanks right now are ways to stem abuses and address student debt, the end game is about putting a kibosh on online learning. The concern trolling in the framing of the report is but the latest example of signs pointing toward this underlying motivation.

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