Larry Bensky on online education

Shortly after reading John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe’s “Higher Education’s Online Revolution” (op-ed, May 31), I received two emails. One, from my department chair, informed me that due to the popularity of my upcoming online summer school class, I was being offered the “opportunity” to turn it into a “megaclass” with an enrollment cap lifted from 60 to 90 students. My compensation would increase by $1,200 (i.e., $40 per student) to a total of $5,712. (Were I teaching such “megaclasses” online full time, after 21 years as a teacher, I would be earning $68,544 a year.)

The other email was from a former student requesting a letter of recommendation—one of the many uncompensated, time-consuming tasks that teachers have, and mostly fulfill, willingly. He had come to see me the past week so that I could refresh my four-year-old memory of him and his excellent work in the classroom, which included an exemplary final exam essay that I had critiqued and returned to him.

When Messrs. Chubb and Moe write that their “revolution” includes a concept of “face-to-face interactions” within a “community of scholars,” they ignore the reality of what’s going on. There is no way I will have much, if any, “face to face” interaction with 90 online students. And there is no way, period, they will have “face to face” interaction with each other. There is also no way I would have the time to read and critique 90 weekly essays, a midterm and a final paper, much less discuss them “face-to-face.”

What’s really going on is the outsourcing of the educatonal experience to for-profit corporations that provide testing and technical tools—sometimes excellent, sometimes badly flawed—to those involved in education.

What’s being lost is the human dimension, a key to elucidation, inquiry, informed thought and education since, well, Jesus and Socrates, to name only two.

Larry Bensky

California State University, East Bay

Hayward, Calif.

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