Sunday, 15 November 2015

HE Dropouts and the digital revolution

Another article that resonates with the course prompted by a Sunday morning newsletter - this time Quinlearning, Oliver Quinlan's (excellent) roundup of thoughts on education, new practice and research.

The article is "The digital revolution in higher education has already happened. No one noticed" by Clay Shirky for

For me the key passage is:
"students taking online classes get worse grades, but are likelier to graduate, because students struggling in face-to-face classes are likelier to drop out altogether." 
In the first week of  EDX028 the statement that results for students taking purely online courses than those attending face-to-face ones struck me as being supremely obvious (of course the higher investment approach should produce better outcomes) but somehow did not sit well, this article brings it into better focus.

Shirky pulls together a number of examples of the huge changes in US Higher Education arising from new technologies making online courses a realistic alternative to attending campus based programmes.

It isn't the combined outcomes for all students when comparing approach A and approach B that matters, it is the difference in outcome for similar students between their expected outcome for A and for B. The article explores ways in which online courses enable broader access, access that allows engagement and a better result than the alternative (which was 'not completing college' rather than 'doing the course on campus').

Terms like "bricks for the rich, clicks for the poor" I think oversimplify - online courses aren't only for people that cannot afford full time college - and I wish the author had made sources for some of the assertions clearer (a references section at the end, or even some hyperlinks), but it is a great contribution to the debate.

The assertion that "As long as we discuss online education as a pedagogic revolution rather than an organizational one, we aren’t even having the right kind of conversation" is I think a really valid one - so much of the discussion is about how technology can change and improve pedagogy, but it seems to me that it is more a question of the alternatives it makes available, the different structures it makes possible and the pedagogies required to be effective in those contexts.

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