Online education not without compromise of educational quality

This summer, the University joined a dozen other universities across the globe by offering free “university courses online on Coursera”: It allows University professors to teach courses in areas ranging from Android App creation to microeconomics.

The University may be reaching millions online with Coursera, but for those on campuses across the United States, there has been a concerning trend toward the computer-based education.

From an educational institution’s standpoint, online education is quite efficient. You can dispense knowledge to as many as millions in an instant, without trying to fit all of them into a single classroom.

But for fully online courses taken at this institution, it appears to be the ultimate compromise between students and a financially strained university: less work for everyone.

Marginal effort is expended in online courses. Rarely is a fully online course taken to reflect a passionate interest in the course material. Interacting directly with your peers and your professor, is preferred in cases where passion is the reason for taking a class.

Online classes are beneficial to us because of their exceptional ease and flexibility. But from an educational standpoint, we’re selling ourselves short. The number of academic units taken online two years ago was more than 4 percent of the total, but given current course offerings, we’re worried that number will increase.

As a dispensary of knowledge, an online class is advantageous. That’s what spoke to us about Wise’s vision for higher education for the masses: specific training for a specific skill set. Online options like Coursera can educate people who work full-time jobs and can’t afford to take time off for school, people who have other time constraints like family and illnesses or people who are geographically cut off from the university system.

Which is why it’s laudable that even as tuitions continue rising, universities are offering free courses for people to learn. And without concerns of profiteering and cutting costs with this new Coursera program, this resource being available to the public is enormously beneficial to society.

But is it a replacement for college education? Nowadays, with a plethora of online learning sources — some free, like the Khan Academy — we must ask why the University would decide the same model works across the board. For University students, the most recent class of which can pay up to $25,000 for out of state tuition, the same thing that makes it effective for the masses is what makes it unworkable for those seeking an education, rather than specific training.

“I really think we should always be aware that we are training people for the workforce, but even more importantly, we’re educating them for their lives,” Chancellor Phyllis Wise told the Editorial Board on Thursday. “There’s a difference between training for a specific thing, versus educating people to be better citizens of the world.”

As the University’s mission, particularly as a land-grant institution, it seems more important for the administration to figure out how to use online components to complement the classroom, and not do away with in-class learning entirely.

True, pioneering educators are trying to find ways to better engage students so that the education received online is still useful, but we can’t help but feel as though that will always be lagging behind classroom learning — particularly learning that utilizes digital resources to the full extent in order to enhance the experience, not compromise it.