Challenging “What School Looks Like”

An unpublished Letter to the Editor in response to Tuesday’s New York Times editorial, “The Trouble With Online College” (link); first appeared on iNACOL.
To the Editor,
Today’s editorial on the growth of online offerings in higher education was right to acknowledge the benefits of blended learning models of instruction, but erred in its treatment of fully online courses and their potential ability to reach and teach students.
For years, quality online courses and schools have served students through the entire spectrum from elementary through college who look for or require flexibility. Online learning is a delivery model for faculty and teachers providing instruction online in a highly personalized and engaging learning environment. Online learning may not be the choice for every student, nor is it for every teacher. To those students for whom it is the right answer – for myriad reasons – online learning can mean the difference between educational access and no option at all.
The advent of the MOOC has stirred the pot by challenging a long-held belief of “what school looks like”, but to dismiss the form in its nascent stage is a dangerous trend that could deny access to an affordable world-class education until now unavailable to far too many. What MOOCs do call into question is whether we should consider competency-based credentialing for students who can demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed for certification or a degree.
Poor course design is damaging to students regardless of how, when, or where they learn, and not limited only to our most vulnerable learners. To insinuate that poorly constructed courses are somehow unique to the online learning experience is naive at best.
Instead, take a moment to reflect upon the possible positive ramifications of embracing the potential for our greatest teachers to reach tens of thousands of eager students, imparting knowledge around the financial, cultural, and geographic constraints of the education system as we’ve known it. New models are emerging and we should be cautiously optimistic to consider what changes to improve the system can be realized. Through our own Socratic method, we can bring to light solutions by critically examining why it is we continue to educate students in the same manner we have for hundreds of years while technology is transforming every other area of our lives.
For more, see a few of the recent higher education and MOOC articles on Getting Smart:

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