Magazine Article

Do it right the first time
Online education fervor sweeps the CSU

Online education is the latest frenzy sweeping through public higher education systems nationwide as well as here in the CSU. Since “online education” means so many different things to different people, the ideas are arriving in all kinds of packages, big and small.

The question before educators and policy makers is not “online education, for or against.” The question is “what does and does not work to serve students and California well.”

The articles presented here are another step in CFA’s attempt to answer that key question.

As the articles by Jennifer Eagan and Jeff Kolnick show, the faculty in the CSU and other states have been exploring the best pedagogical methods to use online tools in the service of their subject matter and the students who take the class.

They assume the aims of any good public education program, whether online, in a classroom, or through a combination of both, are to:

  •  Enhance the success of all students including underserved populations
  • Provide quality higher education (think: good teaching)
  • Give students the ability to think critically and innovate to be strong citizens and get good jobs

Kolnick and Eagan each identify pitfalls that can undermine the whole idea and they warn of what has not worked, what is unlikely to work in the future, and what should be avoided in favor of better approaches.

The news report (p. 15) on a test using MOOC-like classes, now underway at San Jose State, lays out how at least one campus is trying a necessary experiment. One of the key outcomes will be determining whether
the methods are in place to provide remedial education online.

While a lot of uncertainty persists, some things are not new. We do know this:

  • It has always been a bad idea to launch programs without testing to be sure they work
  • Academics have good methods to develop, evaluate and approve new courses, curriculum and teaching methods; try short cuts around that at one’s peril
  • There is no one model or one “magic bullet” to meet our needs
  • There can be unintended consequences from ideas that look good on paper but don’t work in the real world
  • An innovative and fair society cannot afford to ration access to public education based on ability to pay

Some accuse the faculty at universities across the U.S. of going too slow. These critics ignore the fact that faculty are incorporating new tools into their teaching all the time.

The truth is that well-thought-out change makes improvements happen faster and less expensively because we avoid having to fix ugly mistakes or replace programs that didn’t work.

We save money by doing it right the first time.

Even more importantly, we owe it to every student to get this right.