Faculty is Remote, but not Detached,” published on the web by The New York Times, opportunities for online teachers are booming at universities across the country. Improvements in technology like Web streaming and Internet bulletin boards have made the Internet experience of learning more rewarding, effective, and popular than ever for undergraduates and graduate students alike. According to the most recent data available: “nearly 3.5 million students were taking online courses in the fall of 2006” (Tahmincioglu 2008).
This has brought individuals from outside the traditional university community and widened the range of professors students are exposed to in an educational setting. For example, a former marketing executive who “never dreamed she would be able to teach at a college” but who has “fallen in love with teaching” can continue her regular work, post her lessons online, and hold virtual office hours (Tahmincioglu 2008). This is also a reduced cost to the university, as online professors do not need to have office space, and are often willing to accept less pay than ‘regular’ professors, because they are still employed outside of the university community, sometimes the pay is as little as $1,000 a course, or 1/10th of that the school would have to pay a full-time professor (Tahmincioglu 2008).
This raises the question: is the academic community essentially running itself out of full-time work, if the number of online professors continues unabated? True, the greatest expansion in online teaching has been at community colleges, which have often made use of poorly-paid adjunct professors, even in ‘real life’ courses. But even ‘real life’ college teachers are not expected to teach courses and grade papers for classes that often with unlimited enrollment, so that they have comparable workloads, at less pay to ‘real life’ teachers. Also, as the financial and time incentives for both professors and students to use online courses increases, will there be a death of conventional education, with all of the comradely, class interaction, and the face-to-face relationships that this entails?
Perhaps that is why the greatest expansion of online college teaching has been at large, state universities, where lower-priced education, convenient hours, and the ability to work while going to school, has always been one of the major selling points at such institutions.
It could be argued that not that much is lost from shifting to an online format, except for ‘real life’ class discussion. However, conversely, one could also argue that learning to discuss and debate academic issues with professors and students in the classroom is an important skill.
Furthermore, many of the professors may be overburdened with students, because of the online open enrollment format, and the lack of previous teaching experience for many online professors may be a concern. On the other hand, their more varied life experience may be an asset, especially for some of the students most apt to take online classes in business instruction or to get graduate rather than undergraduate degrees to add to professional credentials.
As the cost of college education increase, online learning is likely to become more popular. The effect of this popularity upon the quality of education for the next generation of undergraduates still remains to be seen. Also, although it has proven a boon to professionals wishing to gain some experience in the joys of college teaching, it may also toll a death knell for many individuals seeking full-time careers as professional researchers and academics, as cheaper non-professional online teachers swell the part-time online ranks.
Tahmincioglu. Eve. “The Faculty is Remote, but not Detached.” The New York Times. Mar 2008. 25 Mar 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/09/jobs/09starts.html?scp=1&sq=Internet+learning&st=nyt
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