Friday, June 27, 2014

Reporters and Editors as Guides and Misguides

Last update: Friday 6/27/14 @ 7:23 am
This morning while scanning the daily online education media, I encountered an article in Diverse titled "Study Finds Taking Class Online Does not Necessarily Improve Outcomes" ... which caught my attention because of my bloody personal experience while promoting the development of online degree and certificate programs at a prominent HBCU. I found considerable irony in the negative implications of the title because the deepest wounds I received came from faculty who were convinced that online education was decidedly inferior to traditional classroom education. Had I asserted that online was actually better than traditional education, I would not have been wounded; I would have been lynched ... :-(

However, as I read the article I was overcome by deja-vu. First, it was based on a study by William Bowen and his associates, the same William Bowen who was the principal investigator of a very classy piece of large scale social science statistical research that was published in a book called "Crossing the Finish Line" in 2009, the same William Bowen who last year had published a report on the most rigorous study of blended vs. traditional classes that anyone had ever conducted, a study that concluded that there was no statistical difference between blended (a/k/a "hybrid") classes and traditional face-to-face classes ... at least not in the case of the "Intro to Statistics" courses that he and his colleagues studied that were offered at six public institutions. I recalled that he and his colleagues also found reason to anticipate that blended courses might provide considerable cost savings for colleges and universities. Indeed, further reading confirmed that the reporter's "news" was based on the same article that Bowen had published almost a year ago. Hmmmmmmm.

Of course I know that reporters write articles, but editors have the final cut on the titles of the articles. So I Googled "Bowen hybrid statistics course" and came across the same article published in a different online newspaper, but with the more explicit, less pessimistic title, "Study finds taking intro statistics class online does no harm"

Unfortunately both titles (and both articles) missed the core point of my personal experience wherein most faculty expressed no objection to low blend (hybrid) courses. However the higher the blend, the greater the skepticism.  When the blend becomes 100 percent, i.e, when the courses are fully online with no face-to-face interactions between faculty and students, skepticism gives way to widespread opposition ... widespread, but not universal. The high receptivity of faculty in professional schools and colleges to online courses and to online degree programs is reflected in the fact that most 100% online courses and degree programs in the U.S. are offered by professional schools and colleges, e.g., business, nursing, information systems, criminal justice, etc, etc, etc.