This week, an English professor at Loyola University New Orleans penned an article for Inside Higher Ed titled “Why I Won’t Teach Online.” Professor Christopher Schaberg acknowledged that he used the internet for many things, and that there were several benefits of online courses.
“I understand the value of online offerings for certain required courses and professional programs,” Schaberg writes, “and for reaching students who may not have the ability to get to a college campus. I appreciate that online courses can function as a supplement, as a workaround for real challenges that real people face as they attempt to earn degrees.”
But he then goes on to detail why he will never, ever teach online. His reasons for this decision can be summarized as the following (in his words):
-“I can’t get to know my students in person.”
– “There’s not a place for awkward silences online.”
-“I can’t teach outside online.”
-“We can’t sit in a circle online.”
-“In my classes we read things aloud, often in a spontaneous fashion where students follow each other at each paragraph break, without a plan. We couldn’t do this online …”
These are all valid reasons. Their summarized form doesn’t do them justice, and Schaberg provides other arguments to support his refusal to teach online.
The Other Side of Online Courses
Schaberg’s Op-Ed stood in stark contrast with several other stories that appeared this week. The Hechinger Report and others described how online courses have begun to allow students in rural high schools to take AP courses.
In the words of a Mississippi delta superintendent, Angel Meek, “Students in Holmes County do not have the same benefits as students in more affluent areas … This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide access and opportunity they might not otherwise have.”
AP courses are considered college-level classes and, with a score of a 3-5 on the resulting test (depending on the college) will count for credit. It seems unlikely that a student who has been able to take an online AP course (where none is offered at their high school) would have been concerned whether or not they’d be able to sit outside, or in a circle, or whether or not the class allowed for moments of silence.
The Economic Realities of Higher Education
At Loyola College New Orleans, tuition alone is nearly $40,000 per year. In many other institutions it’s even higher. That financial burden wasn’t quite so bad for the previous generation. In fact, it was barely half as bad. Accounting for inflation, tuition at private non-profit universities in the U.S. like Loyola has doubled in the past 30 years.
It’s a cliché to say that many professors are out of touch with current technology that could aid them in the lecture hall. But as Professor Schaberg demonstrates, he’s actually more out of touch with the socioeconomic realities of college-going learners in the U.S. And he isn’t alone. A study released by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup in the fall of 2017 found that one third of university professors oppose teaching their courses online, while another third remain ambivalent on the subject.
Professors like Christopher Schaberg and others who actively denigrate online courses speak from a position of privilege. They themselves received an in-person college education at a fraction of the cost of what current students pay.
Access Is the Bottom Line
People disagree over the effectiveness of online courses. Some believe they can replicate an in-person experience; others believe they fall short. But there’s something about online courses that no one can disagree with: they expand access to education. Online learning allows for people in any community with a sufficient internet connection to completely alter their socioeconomic situation. No, they might not be able to establish the same relationship with their professor, or sit in a circle, but it’s sure better than nothing. In fact, financially, it can be the difference between prosperity and poverty.
But while institutions, administrators, and learners have welcomed online learning, one group continues to stand in its way: professors. So long as Professor Schaberg and others decry online learning, barriers to education will remain erect.