Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Shocker: Quick Fix Doesn’t Work
I don’t know enough about Pearson to know if it’s better or worse than other outside providers. But it’s an outside provider. I’d rather work with the very smart people we already have. They have a deeper stake in the success of online, even if it takes some work and time for some of the more skeptical ones to see it.
This program was imposed on us by decree from company headquarters, primarily to save a little bit of money rather than to satisfy any real academic need. The faculty had little or no input into its creation and adoption—we were just expected to salute and obey. Most of the students seem to really hate this online math program—the dropout rate has been rather high, and only those students who are highly motivated are able to finish the program.
One of the joys of teaching is organizing and preparing your own course—just like the captain of your own ship you and you alone are solely responsible for everything that goes on in your class. You thrill at the successes and you agonize at the failures and resolve to do better next time. This is the true meaning of academic freedom.
All of this is gone now that we have outsourced much of this functionality to a profit-making company like Pearson. We faculty are now little more than teaching assistants, reading the works of others to our students. We no longer even give grades; a computer program does this for us. Our academic program is no longer run by the faculty—it is run by Pearson. I often quip that we should simply let Pearson grade our students, getting rid of the middleman entirely.
But I guess this the way that higher ed is going. Pretty soon, just about the only places where we will have real live faculty members lecturing to students in a bricks-and-mortar classroom will be at the highest-level R1 universities or at super-snooty SLACs. All of other educational institutions will have their students huddling in front of computer terminals, watching videos and doing homework online. If they have questions about the material, they will probably have to talk to someone in Bangalore.
"when the legislature ordered the university to build an online college for undergrads on a tight deadline, the UF team didn’t host a new round of competitive bids, though the project was much bigger than the graduate courses, and at least eight companies have expertise in the field. Instead, the team rewrote Pearson’s old contract to assign the company’s new, and far more lucrative, responsibilities."
I've worked large contracts at state institutions before. The kind of bidding they're talking about would take a good six months if all the proper steps were followed. At least. Then once a provider is chosen, there are all the logistics of implementation. Especially when technology is involved - how many IT projects, especially publicly funded ones - meet their deadlines? If orders are on high to get it done NOW, you literally cannot follow the open bidding process. The process needs streamlining, obviously, but there's so much CYA; you need to make this ironclad case that you've chosen the right vendor. If you just edit an existing contract, the CYA steps are already largely done because this vendor has already been chosen. And you know they can meet the technology deadlines because their infrastructure is already in place on your campus.
Even doing it all in-house, though...how much of academic administration is the meeting to talk about the meeting to talk about the meeting to someday talk about the meeting to discuss possible changes that could be implemented in FY2073? So that process needs to be streamlined as well. Not that I mean to support jumping into things recklessly, of course. The incentives just...run all the wrong way. They run to staying still, until its too late.
That all said, putting on my student hat - I'm in an online master's program through a public university. It is completely taught and directed by faculty. The assigned faculty member puts together the course, gives the lecture, writes the tests, answers student questions, etc. There are some disadvantages to the online format, mostly that I don't know my peers very well and I think that's a real loss. But mostly, I love it, and mostly it's just like my bricks-and-mortar undergraduate education, from the classroom perspective. So it is done and it can be done, and I hope more schools do.