[Air-l] Technology Transforming Education--EE-Learning

Dr. Steve Eskow drseskow at cox.net
Wed May 23 13:42:52 PDT 2007

Nancy Baym writes: 

,,One thing I haven't seen mentioned in this interesting discussion is that
e/distance learning is really poorly suited for unmotivated students. For
them, coming to a class where their physical presence is observed (even if
they are checking email or doing crossword puzzles) may be the only thing
that keeps them engaged in academics at all. >>

A central and critical issue.

Somehow many unmotivated students have learned to forego purchasing the
required texts, presumably do not read them, and yet are somehow able  to
earn a grade. How this is done baffles me.

That is: there seems to be evidence that the unmotivated student is able to
beat the system without doing much of the academic work one would think

Might this be somehow connected with the new market-oriented approaches of
the struggling-for-funds university which incorporates student evaluation of
facutly performance into the university framework? Are instructors somehow
making it possible for the unmotivated student--the student who cannot will
not read--to get by?

On the other hand, consider the experience of the British Open University.

The BOU has absolutely no academic requirements for admission: does nnt, for
example, require graduation from secondary school.

Research reveals that the composition of the BOU student body is more like
the population at large than the students of the traditional universities.

In 1995 the BOU had an enrollment of 150,000 in degree-credit courses and
another 60,000 non-degree students.

And all studies by indpendent bodies reveal that the graduation rate at BOU
is higher and the level of learning higher than that of all but a few of the
traditional universities.

One hypothesis:

The notion of "blended" or "hybrid" universities that bring together the
dynamics of both the place-based modes of learning and the distance modes is
based on shaky and perhaps faulty assumptions. We may be trying to blend oil
and water.

What research might help us to learn why some online and open learning modes
work, and others fail?

Steve Eskow

My experiences attempting to incorporate online components like blogging
into courses have been extremely disappointing, even when the course was
about online communication (how I wish it had made them more thoughtful in
class discussion!). In general, students seem to have viewed online elements
as a chance to do an absolute minimum, and sometimes not even that. My sense
was that very few ever read what anyone else wrote, and when I tried
mandating that they respond to one another, they wrote 2 word responses like
"good point." And that was with explicit discussion of what constituted a
good response (moves discussion forward, contributes a new idea...)  I hoped
that the chance to write online would allow quiet ones to open up, give
people time to reflect and to engage one another, etc. But all that presumes
that they want an educational experience.

In my advising at this large residential university with a 'traditional'
student population, students seem to prefer online courses only when they
perceive that they will be less work than f2f courses. There are of course
exceptions -- students who are motivated but have time and transportation or
work constraints. 

I hope it goes without saying that there are also many good students here,
and indeed, the motivated students really did take advantage of the blogging
and other online elements, but as a whole, I've been so disappointed with my
efforts to incorporate elearning components.  

Perhaps this is a question of how I have designed the online components. I
thought I was doing well. I gave them specific topics to write on which were
connected to the day's topic, the blog writings formed the basis of their
term paper and allowed them to explore possible topics and get going on it
throughout the semester, the topics allowed them to focus on their own
interests, etc. But if the proof is in the pudding, either I did it poorly
or the students just didn't care enough about having a rich educational
experience to bother.

If anyone has suggestions about how to make e-pieces alluring to students
who are not very engaged to begin with, please share as I'm going to try yet
again this fall. 



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