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Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the rabble.ca series Up! Canadian Labour Rising. Nora is on leave as an editor with the Canadian Association of Labour Media while she takes care of infant twins. Nora's music can be heard here and her blog can be read at www.noraloreto.ca.

Online Education: Silver bullet or cyanide pill?

| June 21, 2013

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For a conference focused on higher education and media, it was fitting to start off the final day with a keynote presentation on online education.

Given by Sir John Daniel, expert in online education and former vice-chancellor of the Open University in the United Kingdom, the conversation debated democracy in higher education and the appearance of MOOCs: massive open online courses.

Daniel's argument, constructed around notions of democracy as he believe it pertains to higher education, conclude that access to high quality MOOCs are central to improving the quality of higher education

The presentation had two major flaws: first, Daniel's definitions of democracy obscured what true democracy means within higher education.

He defined democracy in two ways: first as being the massification of higher education; the broad and universal access to higher education for all people. Second, he argued that democracy equals students' ability to choose the creation of their own degree. For Daniel, a student being able to freely choose the courses that comprise a degree and even have input in its content is democracy.

With this definition, he argues that MOOCs and online education are critical to the natural evolution of higher education.

The problem with this argument starts with the basis of Daniel's definition of democracy.

Democracy already exists within institutions. Through various flawed structures such as Boards of Governors or Regents, senates and departmental councils, institutions are supposed to be run through these democratic structures.

Of course, they offer the illusion of democracy more than actual democracy, but fixing these issues are possible and necessary. By obscuring the definition of democracy from being one where the people most affected are most involved in the governance, operations and planning of the institution, to one where democracy simply means wide access to education, Daniel is able to make several logical leaps. 

Just like capitalism, where a positive argument constructed on paper void of any discussion of current economic, social or political realities is possible but vacant, so too is the debate about online education. Yes, online education could be a useful addition to the academic offerings of an institution. If designed properly and funded adequately, offered freely to people for credit, online education and even MOOCs could be effective. 

However, there is an important political context perverting how politicians and policy makers view higher education, online.

Austerity measures, inflicted against the academy, have privatized Ontario's system by stealth. For politicians, online education offers the silver bullet to all fiscal constraints: no classrooms, fewer professors, no need to hire support staff to care for physical infrastructure. No need to tenured professors. Lower costs. 

If online education is done on the cheap, students will be ripped off. If implemented directly into the core operations of institutions, it will offer a cheaper stream of education; a lower-class degree, for students who cannot get into the physical schools. 

And, most importantly, if students, faculty and staff are not at the core of the design of online education, students will be failed by what's produced. 

Online education has the potential to open wide the doors of higher education and unlock academic research. But, just as possible are the dangers: exploitation of faculty and their work, exploitation of students both financially and academically and the quick erosion of policy. 

The pushers of online education cannot avoid talking about these realities. If debates about online education continue to ignore the political pressures of austerity and neoliberalism, online education, especially MOOCs will never be a positive addition to higher education in Canada. 

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Comments

the illusion of democracy, but democracy itself, but fixing these problems SY0-301 Dumps is possible and necessary. At dusk the definition of democracy as one in which most affected are more involved in government, VCP-510 Dumps

I think its great article for me and my frnds. Good work. Keep it up

Is online education better? That's a question to be answered after few more years. For those who cannot attend physical classes cos of various reasons, online education is a great option. I am working for a real estate company and at the same time doing online course with Freedom Business School, California. It helps me learn as well as attend my work properly. But in the case of replacing online education with schooling is a different story. In many parts online learning (online classrooms) are coming up which may not put off faculties from work. Such changes might come in the near future and maybe then the online education system can take a new step forward without affecting the basic schooling.

Comparing online education to traditional education can be as effective as comparing oranges to apples. The truth is that the most of people interested in online education are adults who have real-life experiences in work and in families.

Education Consultant @ AskForEducation

Is this supposed to be a reference to the Worldviews Conference held in Toronto June 20-21, 2013 on “Global Trends in Media and Higher Education”?

If so, it might have been useful to readers to know that.

Sir John Daniel's presentation is HERE (.pdf download) and the accompanying powerpoint slide presentation is HERE (.pdf download).

 

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