Cathy Davidson, the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Ruth F. Devarney Professor of English at Duke University, has just published a post on the HASTAC site that I recommend to all. Its conclusion is clearly conveyed in its attention-grabbing title: If We Profs Don't Reform Higher Ed, We'll Be Re-Formed (and we won't like it). Her message is further underlined by inclusion of the slide (above) which closes many of her presentations.
Davidson discusses four reasons why there is currently a great deal of discussion about replacing professors with computer screens:
(1) Too many students worldwide want to go to college to be able to accommodate them all.
(2) College in the U.S. costs too much
(3) Online education promises to be lucrative to for-profits
(4) Our current educational system (kindergarten through professional school) is outmoded.
Davidson makes excellent cases for each of these points in her post. She closes by briefly describing some of the efforts she has encountered in her travels that are beginning to address some of these issues. Rather than weakening her excellent arguments by attempting to summarize them, I will simply recommend that you read the original.
I would add another reason to this excellent list that is a slight modification of the 3rd point above:
(5) Online education promises to be lucrative to nonprofits
Just as Davidson says that (3) really bothers her, I will say that (5) really bothers me. Many of the traditional nonprofit universities and colleges are jumping into the online business because they see it as a new source of much needed revenue. As a former administrator, I understand the need for new revenues as much as anyone, so I am a fan of increasing revenues. My concern is that in most cases the online initiatives are not being done in a way that incorporates the online education into the educational mission of the institution - it is a financial, not educational advance. As a result, little emphasis is being placed on educational effectiveness in many of the new online programs. I have great fear that when the educational outcomes of many of these new programs are evaluated, they will be shown to be relatively ineffective. This result will lead many to conclude that online education is intrinsically inferior, when all it will really show is that inferior pedagogy leads to inferior learning. Nonetheless, such a negative, albeit flawed, analysis could be a big setback in the much needed expansion of effective online learning in higher education.