Monday, February 13, 2012

The Obsolete Classroom?

In a recent item from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nick DeSantis reports on the plans of Stanford Professor, Sebastian Thrun, to break away from his tenured position and create his own institution: "Udacity" (presumably a clever union of the words "University" and "Audacity").  Thrun apparently believes that the traditional classroom is outdated and should be abandoned for a multi-mediated digital platform where collaboration and group learning replace lectures and note-taking.

The initial response that anyone might have to this is positive.  If new media can help people learn better and faster by appealing to a diverse set of learning styles and unleashing the power of cooperation, why shouldn't it be used.  I fully agree that it should.  The problem comes when we examine the common false-choice fallacy that is frequently associated with new technologies and the cornucopia of remedies promised by those who are their cheerleaders.  In this case, the fact that teaching an exclusively online course doesn't increase, but decreases, the number of communication modalities available is omitted. All of the tools at the disposal of the online instructor are also available to the classroom instructor, plus one: the gold standard of face to face communication.

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