Today my colleagues and I in the New Testament department are having our end-of-semester, all-morning meeting, which allows us time to wrap up the semester together and discuss things that we don't have time for during the regular semester. One of the things on our agenda is whether our department should move develop more of our courses for online ed. This is an issue that engenders strong opinions, my own included. I know already that our department does not have a unanimous consensus on this, so I'm very interested to see how the discussion turns out. (Full disclosure: I developed and presently administer our first two semesters of Greek as online courses, and I administer [but did not develop] our New Testament introduction course online.) This discussion is not ours alone, but is one in which all of higher education is starting to participate. As a seminary we do have important theological considerations which secular institutions don't have, but all institutions of higher learning who wrestle with this question are concerned about the implications and outcomes of moving towards a very online-prominent education model. A recent New York Times op-ed piece by David Brooks addressed the place of online education in institutions of higher learning. I find that his central point is one which I am starting to share: Online education enables greater efficiency in disseminating and absorbing information. This efficiency then enables institutions to focus much more centrally on the higher-level processes which make learning successful.
Here's a quote from the article which makes this clear. After delineating four processes of learning (absorbing information, reflecting upon it, scrambling it into new contexts, then synthesis), Brooks states the following:
Online education mostly helps students with Step 1. As Richard A. DeMillo of Georgia Tech has argued, it turns transmitting knowledge into a commodity that is cheap and globally available. But it also compels colleges to focus on the rest of the learning process, which is where the real value lies. In an online world, colleges have to think hard about how they are going to take communication, which comes over the Web, and turn it into learning, which is a complex social and emotional process. . . . Online education could potentially push colleges up the value chain — away from information transmission and up to higher things.
We all want to develop students in the best way possible. I hope that DTS can leverage our online offerings to make the best students possible in fulfillment of our mission, to the glory of God.