Monday, March 07, 2016

On-line classes - The "New Normal" #300

According to Clay Shirky (@cshirky), "The digital revolution in higher education has already happened. No one noticed.". He writes that in 2012 one in four American undergraduates took "at least one course online" - a figure that is surely climbing. He speculates that "half the country’s undergraduates will have at least one online class on their transcripts". Are we ready for this in Ireland?

There's no reason why we can't be. I'd love to see the situation where graduates will achieve some of their credits on-line. There are still barriers such as low broadband and connectivity issues for many potential on-line students, but these are slowly but surely being removed. Perhaps the biggest barrier is in the third-level institutions themselves. In my first classes in NCI I had to print out notes for each student, and give them time in class to write down further notes. This was only 13 years ago - it's almost unthinkable to do this today. All my notes and resources such as case-studies, exercises, tutorials, and sample files for each module are made available to students via Moodle. It's the same for most of my colleagues. More of my material is available on YouTube and I frequently point students to other content on-line not of my making. 

Here's an interesting quote from Shirky's article:

We already know what the college of the future will look like, because the non-traditional students are creating it now. It’s a hybrid of online and in-person classes, centered on the student and not the institution, with credits accruing from multiple schools, and adding up to a degree in alternating periods of attendance and absence.

This poses great challenges to bricks and mortar educational institutions like NCI. In the future, will our graduates at our Graduation Ceremony each year be graduating with credits for other Colleges making up their degree at NCI? Can we see a future where a degree parchment will list credits from several education providers both on-line and off-line? What will it mean for traditional graduation ceremonies if over the three or four years of a degree programme that only a small proportion of the modules were taken in the same institution?

I would love to see the day when a degree (or similar as yet unnamed qualification) draws from several locations. More about this tomorrow.


  1. This sounds great but a meaningful degree has to involve more than just the accumulation of credits. On the course I teach on in DCU, the BSc in Biotechnology, we spend a huge amount of time angsting about our course - what we should teach, how we should teach it, and in what order we should teach the content. This alls contribute to the added value that a student gets from attending a single institution - the sum is much more than the sum of the parts.

    1. Hi Greg,

      I hear you, plenty of angst here too about what content to teach and how it is taught.

      However, I feel that we are riding an unstoppable train. I already provide a lot of content to my students via YouTube - in essence they are getting material in two formats from me: traditional lecture, and on-line video. Who's to say that the classroom piece is necessary anymore? This has potential massive consequences for Lecturing as a career. I know in universities that research forms a large part of what a lecturer does - but this is not the case for many lecturers outside the universities (I have no research students and no research projects on the go at the moment). Our emphasis is on teaching, and the medium that we deliver classes (or parts of classes) is changing.

      The challenge becomes one not just of how we add value to a well-thought out and planned programme (like the BSc in Biotech), but how this value can be maintained and enhanced with on-line delivery.

      Thanks for reading my post!