A Virtual Classroom

, Don Irvine, Leave a comment

The digital revolution is leading to increased absenteeism at California colleges and universities according to the Los Angeles Times. Based on the interviews and comments this is not only a California problem.

For example the “Introduction to Computers” course at U.C. Berkeley had 200 students enrolled last semester and on the average only 20 students would show up for class. The reason? The instructor, Americ Azevedo posted very detailed lecture notes and discussions online. With virtually every college student now having a computer along with numerous other electronic devices this was an open invitation to stay in bed rather than attend class. The professor did offer extra credit to students for attending class and giving an oral report on what they learned, but it wasn’t clear from the article whether or not this made much of a difference.

At Cal State Long Beach Terre Allen’s “Language and Behavior” class experienced absentee rates of about 67% so Allen will now post less material online in an effort to get more students in the classroom. Is she doing this for the students benefit or his her ego bruised by the low turnout?

As might be imagined the students love the online notes and podcasts that many courses are offering. One third year UCLA student was quoted as saying he missed a “couple of sessions” because he knew the Bruincasts (podcasts) were there as a backup.

I doubt that it was just a couple of sessions. It is far too easy to skip most of the classes unless the professors are going to have pop quizzes (which some are) or don’t post all the lecture notes online. Even so the trend is clearly in favor of the digital classroom. And by the way, what exactly is the benefit of attending a class with 150-200 students? In high school it was bad enough to have 30 plus kids in a class. At least this way the students could theoretically study when they really have the time. This development poses a serious threat to higher education’s economic model. Will there be as much demand to live on campus? Will the students pay the ever increasing tuition and fees to attend classes that can be found largely online or demand a lower rate for being a “virtual” student? Will donations to the schools continue if students rarely interact with other students and administrators?

For the professors their very existence is being questioned. If the majority of students use online notes and podcasts does the school need higher salaried tenured teachers or will lower paid associates do?

The Ivory Tower may not be ready to fall, but there are serious cracks in the foundation.

Don Irvine is the chairman of Accuracy in Media, AIA’s parent organization.

 

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