Online Courses – Where’s the Teacher?

Dear Commons Community,

“WHEN colleges and universities finally decide to make full use of the Internet, most professors will lose their jobs”.  This is the opening sentence in an article in the NY Times today reviewing the state of online learning in higher education.  The author, Randall Stross, a professor of business at San Jose State University, makes this statement  to attract the reader’s attention.  However, he also makes a number of interesting comments regarding the evolving blended/hybrid learning environment,  the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University,   and the OpenCourseWare Program at M.I.T.   The essence of his article is whether a well-designed fully online course can replace the teacher in the classroom and whether it should.   Citing the courses designed as part of the Carnegie Mellon Initiative, each of which cost $500,000 to $1 million to design, the possibility is there especially if they are replacing large lecture size classes where faculty student interaction is at a minimum.  To balance his argument, he quotes Wendy Brown, the Heller professor of political science at Berkeley:

“What is sacrificed when classrooms disappear, the place where good teachers do not merely ‘deliver content’ to students but wake them up, throw them on their feet and pull the chair away? Where ideas can become intoxicating, where an instructor’s ardor for a subject or a dimension of the world can be contagious? Where scientific, literary, ethical or political passions are ignited?”

His concluding line is as good as his opener:

“If administrators at many state universities ever secure the funds to make capital investments again, they may be ready to look anew at the shelf where those wholly self-contained courses now sit. My job is safe, I think. Carnegie Mellon hasn’t yet developed software for the courses I teach — thank goodness.”



  1. This is an very interesting topic, I see everyday that a new website pops up and claims of providing an online degree or course, I know those are CRAP.

    But, I believe the idea of creating and online courses is great because it allows student to watch the lecturer again and again.

    And, online it is also possible to tackle the problem of particular student as well.

    • I agree with you, Kevin,

      I too have come to believe that there is pedagogical value in online learning to say nothing about the fact that it allows access to a lot of students who have trouble because of distance or time commitments of attending traditional college classess.

      Thanks for posting to my blog.