Debbie Naquin (ENG, LO) pointed me to the following short article from yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education:
There are many of these sorts of changes afoot in higher education--all kinds of ways to vastly reduce faculty time spent teaching. (Another example you might not all be aware of is the Virginia Tech Math Emporium, where students spend much of the time they would normally spend in math class working problems at a computer in a gymnasium, and calling a tutor over for one-on-one help when needed.) In some cases, folks who advocate these types of changes suggest that student learning is just as good either way and that the models that take up less faculty time leave faculty more time to do other work (committee work, research and publishing, advising, etc.). Others, I suspect, are concerned more with money, either with saving it or with making it (as in the case of StraighterLine).
I find myself torn about these kinds of projects. Of course, as a teacher, I believe that teachers and their ongoing interactions with students make a difference--just working through the materials independently and seeking a few hours of tutoring is not the same learning, even if it is difficult to quantify, or even articulate, what the teacher adds to the equation. (This is not even to mention the value of interaction with other students, which we seek in ELI courses but which I presume is not a part of the courses offered through StraighterLine.) Teachers also add the creativity and uniqueness we bring to conveying our disciplines, and that is certainly lost in a service like StraighterLine, where all the teaching products are off-the-shelf textbook-made learning tools.
At the same time, some of these sorts of projects really have shown equal levels of student learning, and if our central goal is to teach students certain skills, then does it matter how we taught it to them? And, although I just insinuated that learning objects and materials made by textbook companies are not as good as what we as teachers produce, their development is often guided by much research on learning and cognition, and they are often very high-tech and engaging--surely better than some of the things individual teachers produce.
What do you think? And do you expect that we'll see more of these sorts of products in the future?