If any e-learning development could be more startling than the rapid fire escalation of (mostly) free virtual platform Coursera from well funded academic niche to revolutionary service that could potentially alter the way Americans view higher education altogether, it’d have to be the overwhelmingly positive reception from all corners of the scholastic continuum throughout its first year of operations.
Knowledgeable observers have explained away the free pass given Coursera as inevitable repercussion of the societal prestige universally awarded the digital resource’s founder and president Andrew Ng (and his well chosen compatriots), but, after the site completely avoided the merest semblance of pot shots from local and national defenders of campus traditions, the waves of unrelenting support may indicate a more disturbing element to the cut rate tutorials than has generally been discussed.
To that end, a swelling cadre of professional instructors and administrative officials employed within the conventional e-learning metier — if such a definition could even apply to technologies barely a decade old — have openly pondered the true motivations shielding Coursera from casual disdain, and, perhaps, it’s less the underlying rightness of the business model than the essential weakness that prevents candidates from getting a degree online through their programs.
As things stand, Coursera participants could spend a decade studying under recognized authorities in their fields and poring over every single variance taught within, say, Business Administration or Marketing programs and never come close to qualifying for just an online Associate’s degree. Many pundits had insisted the (so to speak) headlining acts serving as academic celebrities in residence for the Ivy League campuses and similarly star studded scholastic institutions would never in a million years consent to allow an external site to tape and host a sampling of their lectures absent the surrounding lesson plans or slow building momentum and context crucial to any complicated coursework.
As happens, though, the teachers seems even more passionate about broadening the opportunities for disadvantaged students than school officials. Wearily fighting a losing battle against public opinion and firmly tarred by accusations of irresponsible profligacy seemingly whenever name checked by mass media vipers, administrators charged with protecting the sacrosanct centers of learning would love to see supportive press cover getting a degree online for the first time in what must seem like ages.
Still, for tireless boosterism over Coursera’s approach to getting a degree online, nothing could beat the thirst for engaged participants nurtured by tenured faculty members who’d given their lives over to furthering intellectual development and forging vital rhetorical linkages only to realize rather too late that the students best equipped to wow the registrar’ and speed through admissions are also the least likely diploma candidates to spend a moment more than necessary internalizing a particularly poignant truth.
In the end, though, the success of an educational venture shan’t depend upon admiring headlines or teachers’ workplace morale or even student satisfaction during the process. Higher learning must sooner or later incorporate the multifaceted curriculum and instructional support of a school that will be forced to charge for services rendered — even if it’s tax payers footing the bill, as remains the European custom — and, the soon to be million student question, does the Coursera technique pave the way for loftier endeavors or simply lower standards and expectations across the board?