On-Line Hokum

There must be many school administrators who have too much time on their hands. They keep trying to come up with new ways to teach and learn forgetting that the best way to do that is to get the brightest teachers you can by paying them a decent salary and then turning them loose in the classrooms. Instead, they have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the electronic toys that have been incorporated into schools at nearly every level. This is part of the common educational practice of bringing the subject matter down to the level of the student rather than to have the student stretch and grow to reach a higher level. Give ’em what they want. The kids play with electronic toys, let’s incorporate them into the curriculum. Somehow. The latest educational fad in “higher” education is to make learning even easier and less painful: let the students stay at home where they can sit in front of a computer screen as passive vessels instead of in a classroom where they might accidentally interact with each other or, worse yet, the instructor.

I’m with Albert here: led by a purblind educational bureaucracy we are rapidly turning out idiots who cannot interact with one another and cannot use their minds except to turn things on and off. Socrates was never “certified” to teach, and he didn’t use the latest electronic gadget, either. Plato’s Academy also did rather well without the latest electronic toy, thank you very much. After all, Plato was able to turn out people like Aristotle without a huge cadre of administrators looking over his shoulder, a committee of well-meaning board members to answer to, or a single computer.

Our addiction to electronic toys has seriously inhibited human interaction as we see people walking down the street holding electronic devices to their ears or looking down at the device they are sending text messages from: they don’t talk to one another any more, they talk at one another — in broken English. As suggested above, the latest fad in higher education is the trend toward on-line learning, which is simply another way to guarantee that students will learn very little. I dare say it will soon catch on at the high school level as well.

However, studies have shown repeatedly that the lecture method — in the classroom or on-line — is the worst way to teach a subject for most students. In addition, the drop-out rates in on-line education are off the charts. Real learning takes place when people interact with one another. On-line lecturing is simply multiplying the lecture-system mistake by making it easier and faster — and cheaper. And there’s the rub. Education has become so costly that students are turning to on-line “universities” like The University of Phoenix, and the other colleges and universities realize they must either join the party or sit by as their high-paid faculty lecture to empty halls. It’s sink or swim. We are now told that a group of so-called “prestige” universities want to join the fray:

Now 30 Under 30 alum 2U, which has previously focused on online graduate degree programs, has decided to throw its hat into the ring. This week, the company, formerly known as 2tor, announced a partnership with a consortium of 10 universities to offer undergraduate courses online. The company’s new program, Semester Online, will launch in September 2013 with a catalog of about 30 courses offered by Brandeis, Duke, Emory, Northwestern, University of North Carolina, Notre Dame, University of Rochester, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Whatever the reason, we insist on embracing the latest fashion even when the evidence proves that it not only fails to deliver the goods, but it actually inhibits the results — teaching and learning in this case. Electronic gadgets do not enhance learning; as Jane Healy has shown, they actually inhibit learning. Their use has led to the incapacity of parts of the brain to function as they should, thereby making thought and coherent speech more and more difficult for growing numbers of students. Instead of embracing the latest fad, we might be better advised to simply reflect on the goal of education which is to enable young minds to grow and develop. We need to stop worrying about what is latest, or cheapest and easiest, and start to recall what is most effective: a good teacher in a room interacting with interested and curious students. Preferably they should sit in a circle.


12 thoughts on “On-Line Hokum

  1. “Our addiction to electronic toys has seriously inhibited human interaction ”

    Oh my! How often I say to people about televisions and such, ” It’s a drug! Watch people when they turn on a television, and soon everyone is tuned into the television and tuned out from each other – for hours and hours!” of course i note the heads-down posture of so many people walking through life with their eyes on their phones and not absorbing the landscape and people around them. Many people seem tuned out, and it saddens me.

    Paulo Coelho mentioned that, as well, in the Valkries; I will see if I can find that quote!

    Of course I agree with every word of this post!

    • Thanks, Z. I was watching an NBA game on TV the other day and a great many people in the audience were not watching the game: they were texting or checking their hand-held electronic devices. We are becoming an inverted world. We need more artists like you who look at the world around them and see the beauty!


  2. Found it! Page 32, The Valkyries:
    Paulo said, “I want you to pay close attention to the people who pass by.”
    In the next half hour, only five people passed by.
    “What did you see?”
    She described the people in detail — their clothing, approx age, what they were carrying. But apparently that was’t what he wanted to hear. He insisted on more, trying to get a better answer, but couldn’t do so.
    “Okay,” he said. “I’m going to tell you what it was that I wanted you to notice: All the people who passed by in the street were looking down.”

  3. Great post and what a prescient person Einstein was. Two thoughts. First, I am very found of a comment made to me by a retired social worker (Jenni will appreciate this one). She used to say “you need to be present in the conversation.” To me that speaks volumes about not being distracted when listening to someone. Second, working from home and studying online is not for everyone. On the former, the supervisor would typically only sign off on it if the person worked well in the office. If they were a bad performer there, they would not be a better one away from others. Same holds true for online schooling – “you mean I have to actually work?” Thanks, BTG

  4. As usual, a wonderful, thought provoking blog. I always enjoy the thoughtfulness, and sheer brain power that goes into your work. You take a topic to the next level, far beyond the perfunctuary and obvious.

    I agree that we are losing our interactive skills as individuals, and I have railed on more than one occasion on the isolation created by our expanding electronic world.

    I am not a fan of blanket computer learning. I have a great deal of difficulty with it, and do so much better in a group where I can interact, and learn from the questions and comments of others; they open areas I likely had not nor would not think of.

    But having said that, with the obscene costs of colleges these days, costs that are rising far beyond the cost of living, on-line education might be the only line of defense left for many, or at least a few who would have no other options.

    I’m not as well versed in the area of education as you, but I see higher education and medicine both operating in a bubble of ever rising prices for ever decreasing services. The bubble has to burst at some time, with either alternatives coming to market, or such a decrease of demand that prices have to fall. On-line education, may be that alternative for some.

    As usual, great post, thanks for sharing your ideas.


  5. This reminds me a little of David Gelernter’s essay The Myth of Computers in the Classroom. I agree that teaching in a circle and with class participation is best. It reminds me of Freire’s ideas about problem-posing education. Is that your style of teaching?

    • Yes, as much as possibler. The best classes I ever had were always with the students in a circle or around a table — where we could talk with one another and no one was lording it over anyone else.

  6. As you know, I’m with Barney on this one. If we can’t find a way to make school more affordable and accessible, I am glad there is some way to give more people access to these classes. It is not the answer, but it does seem to have some value. But I have really appreciated learning from you about the dangers of relying too heavy on this method, but so thank you for that!

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