• April 18, 2014

Will Technology Kill the Academic Calendar?

Online, semesters give way to students who set their own schedules

No Classroom, Not Even a Class. Just Students, One by One, Logging On. 1 Enlarge Image
close No Classroom, Not Even a Class. Just Students, One by One, Logging On. 1

Ford T. Smith is helping to bulldoze one of the most durable pillars of academic life: the semester.

An adjunct faculty member at Kentucky's Jefferson Community & Technical College, Mr. Smith teaches in an online program that lets students start class any day they want and finish at their own speed. One student, desperate to graduate, knocked off 113 quizzes and six writing assignments for a humanities course in 46 sleepless hours.

But there is a downside to this convenience, and it's deeper than bleary eyes. The open format of Jefferson's program, called Learn Anytime, means students don't move through classes in groups. None of Mr. Smith's 400 online students will have a discussion or do a group project with classmates.

It's a controversial approach to online education­—one that is gaining traction at some colleges. Supporters see the self-paced model as a means to serve more students, since no one is turned away because of a full section, missed deadline, or canceled class. Others criticize go-it-alone learning as a second-rate system that leaves students in greater danger of dropping out.

"Educationally, it's not defensible," says D. Randy Garrison, a veteran distance-education researcher who directs the Teaching & Learning Centre at the University of Calgary. "It doesn't allow students to get a deep understanding of the content."

Regardless of criticism like that, the model is spreading. Its former champion within Jefferson's administration, Robert Johnson, plans to make open-entry courses the default for a new online program he leads at the Louisiana Community & Technical College system. At Arizona's Rio Salado College, home to one of America's largest online programs, self-paced classes start every Monday. Others that teach this way include StraighterLine, a company that provides online courses, and Athabasca University, a distance-education institution in Canada.

With so much tied to semesters, innovators who adopt open-entry courses may be in for a bureaucratic migraine. Administrative software struggles to handle them. Professors who offer them sacrifice normal vacations; Mr. Johnson has taught a theater-appreciation course continuously for more than 1,000 days.

Most worrisome, Jefferson officials urge students not to enroll in open-entry courses if they receive financial aid. Their course work might straddle two traditional terms, and the lack of a grade posted for the previous term could endanger continuing aid, says Joshua Smith, the college's executive director for e-learning initiatives.

But the format also offers opportunity to entrepreneurial professors willing to log extreme hours.

The $120,000-a-Year Adjunct

Ford Smith teaches three classes at Jefferson: English 101 and 102 and Introduction to Humanities. With no due dates and students popping in daily, that feels more like coordinating 400 independent studies.

He asks students not to call between midnight and 6 a.m.; otherwise, he's mostly working. He tells two stories that sound apocryphal, but which he insists are true. One: During his wife's labor, Mr. Smith was e-mailing a student and writing a tutorial on "monophony" and "polyphony" while urging her to push. Two: He calls his daughter "Angel," after a course-management system. (Her real name is Angelica; his wife wasn't keen on naming their child for a piece of software.)

Obsession pays. Learn Anytime professors aren't compensated per class. They're compensated per student—$65 a head. By taking advantage of that system and adding other teaching gigs, Mr. Smith earns an annual paycheck that tenured professors might envy: $120,000.

"In Kentucky, that's just unheard of," he says.

How It Works

Other than programs like Learn Anytime, online education generally mimics the familiar face-to-face template. A group of students moves through course work at a set pace and discusses the lessons, typically in a course forum.

Jefferson's effort to break that mold grew out of a dual-credit project with a local public-school system. Since 2007, Learn Anytime has exploded from a couple of hundred students to nearly 1,300.

The two-year college, based in Louisville, Kentucky's largest city, now runs about 25 start-anytime courses. They're typically high-demand, introductory classes in subjects like English, economics, math, physics, psychology, and computers.

The Chronicle got a feel for the quirks of these never-ending courses when a reporter met with Mr. Johnson at a Starbucks in Baton Rouge, La., recently. As a Jefferson administrator, he had led the development of Learn Anytime, and he still teaches the theater-appreciation course for the Kentucky college despite his new job in Louisiana.

Mr. Johnson's classroom isn't just virtual. It's also largely automated. After he logs in on his laptop, a counter pops up to show students the number of days remaining for them to complete the class (120 is now the maximum, down from 150). Quizzes are self-grading. Completion of one task triggers the next. Submission of an assignment sends an alert to Mr. Johnson's iPhone. The course software e-mails students "personalized" advice, programmed by Mr. Johnson, throughout the class. "Dear Tom," it might say. "Let me give you some tips about how to do the next lesson."

And the students? A dashboard tells Mr. Johnson that one logged in Friday. But ask him how many are in the course, which has run in this format since 2007, and he isn't immediately sure. He laughs.

"Isn't that sad?" he says. "I can't remember ever sitting down and counting. I just treat them as individuals as they pass through."

If you're thinking this feels like a misguided way to teach, that's nothing new to Mr. Johnson. How, some professors ask, can you teach without discussion? Without a cohort?

His view is that not much learning takes place among students in an online course. They often just don't read the forum conversation, he says. Sure, they might add their own comments to a discussion board, he says, "but they don't really benefit from what others are saying."

They do benefit from the feedback he gives in self-paced courses, Mr. Johnson says, because instead of slogging through 25 homework assignments at once, he focuses on each student's work as it trickles in. He is fanatic about not making them wait. Once, while giving a PowerPoint presentation to a group of college administrators, the iPhone at his hip buzzed to alert him that a student had finished a lesson. During the break, while everyone else was having coffee, he graded it.

"I'm a much better teacher than I was in a cohort," he says. "Each student gets my individual attention."

In some ways, self-paced online courses are a throwback to the days when learning at a distance meant corresponding by mail. Over the years, completion rates for independent learners have generally been lower than for those studying in groups, according to experts both for and against self-paced study. One calls the format "a procrastinator's heaven." At Jefferson, however, the data do not show a falloff in completion for Learn Anytime courses.

Still, Mr. Garrison, the Calgary researcher, is suspicious of the format. He thinks its adoption is driven by financial, not educational, needs. To learn deeply, he says, students should have their ideas and assumptions challenged. They need freedom to explore ideas with other students, without the pressure of the instructor judging every comment.

"Historically, we've always shown that persistence is directly related to the degree of interaction and engagement in a course of studies," he says. "When a professor has 400 students, there's not very much interaction, even with a professor."

'There Was No Learning'

One of Mr. Smith's former students at Jefferson, Vicki A. Smith, praises his responsiveness and doesn't mind solitary study. Her view typifies the just-get-it-done attitude of many self-paced students.

Ms. Smith, 48, has gone back to college for a nursing degree. One of her program's prerequisites is English 101, a course she skipped years ago when she got her bachelor's at the University of Kentucky. Rather than put up a fight—she had taken English 102 there—she signed up for Mr. Smith's self-paced course.

She found it "unbelievably" easy. Assigned a research paper, she expected to write at least 10 pages; turned out she had to hand in only two or three. "There was no learning," she says. "It was total remedial."

Told of her experience, Joshua Smith, Jefferson's e-learning director, says Ms. Smith appears to be an "atypical student," since she had already earned a degree. He emphasizes that all courses must teach the same "competencies" for their discipline, and that all syllabi must be approved, regardless of course format.

"The feedback I have received from students does not suggest that the course curriculum is any easier in Learn Anytime courses," he says in an e-mail. "Given the (unfortunate) 40% completion rate for ENG101 in the spring '10 term, I would tend to agree."

Vicki Smith's bottom line: Peer collaboration would matter in a higher-level class. Not in one like this.

But can you have both interaction and independent study? The answer may be yes, through social networking.

If there are enough students, those at the same point in a course can study together on a Facebook-like system, says Terry Anderson, an Athabasca professor who does research about distance education.

It's happening. Athabasca University is experimenting with a platform called Elgg. Rio Salado students connect in an online student union. OpenStudy offers another platform.

"The next frontier in online learning," says Mr. Anderson, "is to merge the social stuff with the self-paced stuff."


This article reported that Ford T. Smith earns $120,000 a year by combining his job as an adjunct faculty member at Jefferson Community & Technical College with other teaching positions. The Chronicle has learned that more than half his annual salary, nearly $70,000, comes from his full-time job as a teacher with Jefferson County Public Schools. The most he has earned at Jefferson is $27,540, according to the college


1. music_librarian - October 11, 2010 at 08:57 am

How much of the 46 hours spent on this online course is the student going to remember even a week or two later?

2. wklawrence - October 11, 2010 at 09:05 am

Do employees go to work whenever they want?

3. profmomof1 - October 11, 2010 at 09:12 am

Well, I find that many students in regular face-to-face classes remember little even a short while after class has ended. I think for any format, students have to be self-motivated or real learning cannot take place.

4. koegler - October 11, 2010 at 09:45 am

Not meaning to be skeptical, but how do we know that the person accessing the site, doing the work and taking the tests is really the student. As an employee I am tasked to take mandatory online training constantly. You would be amazed at the number of people passing along the answers so others do not have to take the time and effort.

5. alvitap - October 11, 2010 at 10:08 am

None of this really matters. The important issue for institutions is the low costs (wages) and high tuition.

6. dballard - October 11, 2010 at 10:27 am

Although the traditional semester concept certainly needs reviewing, this is not learning -- "One student, desperate to graduate, knocked off 113 quizzes and six writing assignments for a humanities course in 46 sleepless hours."

7. optimysticynic - October 11, 2010 at 10:29 am

Of course the motive is financial. But not in the obvious way. In Kentucky, all public institutions are being required to double the number of bachelors degrees awarded by 2020 (starting with the number awarded as of 2002/3). Everyone knows that budgets, which have been cut, especially at KCTCS, every year for the past five, will depend on those throughput numbers. No one is saying anything, anywhere, in any way about quality. It's all quantity, all the time. No one cares HOW the students get through, no one cares what students know or can do at the end. What the legislature wants is to be able to say: KY has X % college graduates, in order to attract business and boost the economy. This is not an inference; this is publicly stated policy. It's completely overt and every administrator's job is on the line to produce numbers of graduates. Instructors who adhere to "standards" are in the way of continued funding for their institution and their departments. Let 'em pass! This is simply a more intense, local version of the national goal. Quantity rules.

8. wilcoxlibrary - October 11, 2010 at 10:34 am

46 six hours of cut and paste... How boring.

9. danielwaclaw - October 11, 2010 at 10:37 am

A couple of things:

(1) To me, the most important part of higher education is building and then conveying solid arguments to other people. This can only happen in dialog with others--and a variety of others, at that!

(2) Back in my day (and most other people's days, I imagine), they had a word for learning stuff from books while not in the classroom. They called it "reading." (No real point here, per se. Just wanted to work some of that inner-snark on this Monday morning.)

(3) I find the connection between this phenomenon and old-school mail correspondence courses very interesting. People are expecting more out of this kind of experience (from profs, for instance) while paying little more in return. (Right?)

10. ubatuba - October 11, 2010 at 11:00 am

To make $120K at $65/student, Smith must have enrollments in his classes in excess of 1800 students. If took only a total of 21 days off (i.e. he worked 344 days of the year), and worked 12 hour days each day, he could devote, at most, a little over 2 hours to provide feedback to each individual student. This assumes that he no longer has to create course content. He is quoted as saying, "I'm a much better teacher than I was in a cohort...Each student gets my individual attention." Hard to imagine that students get much individual attention.

11. rogergg - October 11, 2010 at 11:12 am

Send Ford Smith to summer camp. He needs some fresh air. Or maybe he could take an online course about Bhutan and the concept of Gross National Happiness.

12. suzannehealy - October 11, 2010 at 11:15 am

I am currently a student at WGU, an institution that, while not quite as open as the program profiled, does not operate on the normal "semester" model. A new semester starts the 1st of each month and runs for 6 months. A student can complete as many "courses" as they are able during that time frame.

When I first decided to go back to school and finish my degree, I found the traditional classroom environment to be too difficult to fit into my schedule. At the time I was working full time, and raising 4 children. The draw to WGU was that it was not a cohort program. I had taken both traditional and distance learning courses prior to enrolling at WGU and knew that I did not want my progress being limited by the "group" to which I was assigned.

WGU in a large number of cases, requires that the student pass a certification exam to pass the "class". This involves presenting to a 3rd party testing center and proving your identity, thus largely limiting the possibility that someone other then the student is doing the work.

Furthermore, I have found that this self-directed educational path is much more difficult then the traditional learning environment. You have to be very self motivated and willing to push yourself to get the work done.

While I am a distance learning student, I don't feel like I'm "in it alone". Each student at WGU is assigned a "mentor" that is in constant contact with them, helping with problems, directing to additional resources, and making the student feel connected to the University.

I feel that the growing number of options to further the education of adult learners is a huge benefit for those of us that would be non-traditional students.

13. 11272784 - October 11, 2010 at 11:24 am

Some classes CAN function with no calendar - but most cannot. There is great value in students progressing through a class together and interacting with each other - which is impractical if the class doesn't at least start the students at the same time. There is no one answer - it depends on the class design and objectives.

14. rangerjoe - October 11, 2010 at 11:26 am

Smith doesn't make $120k on the Learn Anytime program. The article states:
"By taking advantage of that system and adding other teaching gigs, Mr. Smith earns an annual paycheck that tenured professors might envy: $120,000."
The self-paced program clearly isn't his day job (especially considering the math someone did above). He works for a public schools system, which likely accounts for at least half of that amount. But notice, the article said "teaching gigs" (plural). I'd be interested to see a breakdown of his income--the author seems to have gone for deceptive ambiguity here, for shock value.

15. chron7 - October 11, 2010 at 11:37 am

You've got to be kidding. Sacrifice normal vacations? This country already has one of the worst records for time off in the world. We need to move toward more regeneration time. Not less.

16. timothymckean - October 11, 2010 at 11:44 am

While this solution may not be appropriate for all students, we should not deny that the idea may be more appropriate for some students. While some have commented on the student that passed k the class in 48 hours not learning anything, is it not possible that the student already knew the content and simply needed the course credit.

I am a public school teacher who teacher adjuct at a local university. I'm in the process of getting my admin credential, and one on the classes that I need to take is one that I already teach. Will i take this class from myself, or from my colleage (who is a former student of mine?). This kind of course could be very appropriate for remedial courses, prerequisites, and special cases such as a few have already mentioned.

As with all technologies, and advancement in technology, this too with find its niche value.

Let's not forget also that students have the choice to take this kind of course over the traditional class, it is not forced upon them.

17. clayfabulous - October 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm

As a person who has served on a committee who reviews 1 and 2 level collegiate courses offered via the web,I am conecrned that the instruction and delivery of these courses is often sub - par. What we often miss is the community of the classroom. What we ALWAYS miss is the various discussions that are off topic and often life changing. Screw earning a college degree sitting in your living room in your underwear.
We have a few administrators in this institution that earned advanced degrees online. In a word - disconnected. Online degrees are taking off at a high clip. The courses I've reviewed are more often than not: read chapter one. Look at powerpoit. take the Test bank quiz,submitt discussion board, take the online test - repeat. This is a big money maker for colleges - it will continue to expand. Is it working?

18. texasguy - October 11, 2010 at 12:23 pm

As timothymckean pointed out this asynchronous classes are a great solution for remedial courses or missed prerequisites. In some sense, they occupy a middle ground between conventional semester courses and credit by examination. They are the online equivalent of the minisessions that some schools offer during the Christmas break.

I worry at the same time about the potential for abuse. What would be the value of a BA entirely made up of these quickie courses?

19. wendylove - October 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm

I have developed and taught online courses, but within either a traditional or accelerated semester schedule - and with many internal deadlines and a sizable (required) discussion component. Although I comment on every piece of work that is turned in and advise students in email as necessary, those discussions are often where the best ideas come up and the best interchanges take place -- just as in a traditional classroom. The Western Governors University model (self-paced but with rigorous assessment procedures) can be great for introductory-level subjects and highly motivated (usually working professional) students, but, honestly, I would class that as closer to a credit-by-assessment program (which fills an important niche). In general I feel that online courses on some type of calendar are a much better educational experience for both the instructor *and* the student.

20. davidbinder - October 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Other than being done through the Internet, there is not much new in this approach. It is basically the independent study correspondence course model being delivered online.

21. weevie833 - October 11, 2010 at 12:45 pm

As an employer, I would undoubtedly be prejudiced by anyone who presented credentials that included such forms of instruction. Without a conversation, or a proxy equivalent such as live chat, then I find online learning quite boring and rote. I am avoiding doing my work for an online class right now at this moment as I type here. I do not look forward to it because of its barren cyberscape, devoid of the human discourse that I use to orient myself to the topics.

22. 3224243 - October 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm

@18 - what is the value of a BA degree when all the employer cares about is that you got a degree? Many of the non-traditional students today only get a degree because it's required to move up the ladder. The courses and content are irrelevant - the graduation is the only thing that's important.

23. ellenhunt - October 11, 2010 at 01:14 pm

2 hours of individual attention per student per course? That's fairly normal I think as the average, probably a bit high compared to regular classes.

That said, I am thinking, "Here we go!" as in starting downhill on a ski jump. This will snowball, and universities will start setting the bar so that to make even $80,000 a year the professor will have to work like a dog in this way. This guy seriously brags about emailing and writing during his wife's labor?

24. colorlessblueideas - October 11, 2010 at 01:18 pm

Timothymckean (16) finds this type of course administration which would help him in a bind: he's required to take a course (for his degree) which he as been teaching for awhile. What insane bureaucracy would *not* credit him that course?

25. jessicaatgearypmg - October 11, 2010 at 01:45 pm

Since when is "non traditional" such a dirty word? Today's definition of student has changed.

While the ivy-covered grounds of the traditional 4 year school are still a home run to some, who want to enjoy the social aspects and benefits of a traditional campus culture, in addition to the academics, others seek a quicker path. That retiree who is laid off and decides to go back to school or a single working mother, does not need the traditional semester system.

If the programs and their learning benchmarks are regulated by accreditation boards, why shouldn't the student be able to start and finish the program at their own pace? Another false assumption by some is that faster is easier. In a good, accredited, asynchronous course, finishing it quickly is more challenging to the student, than a course measured through the semester system.

Bottom line? More options for higher education formats is not a bad thing.

26. dank48 - October 11, 2010 at 02:40 pm

The abrupt conservatism of soi-disant radicals when they perceive a threat to their own comfortable way of doing things is striking.

27. kpeluszak - October 11, 2010 at 02:42 pm

A couple of things that do not make sense to me. "His view is that not much learning takes place among students in an online course. They often just don't read the forum conversation, he says. Sure, they might add their own comments to a discussion board, he says, "but they don't really benefit from what others are saying." This is a terrible assumption based off of a lack of logical thinking and scholarly research. Let's try and look at the facts.

Also, I can't see this type of course work fulfilling any accreditation requirements so take at your own risk.

I agree with jessicaatgearypmg to an extent. Yes, more options are not a bad thing, but certainly one must decide what the reasoning behind attaining an education as well as the strategic goals behind the university or college that is offering non-traditional courses.

In response to 3224243 number 22 post. At 18, can you be sure that "all" or "most" employers really feel that way? Just curious since I'm an employer and would strongly disagree with you.

28. unusedusername - October 11, 2010 at 03:17 pm

3224243 number 22 post, you are pretty much correct. Under current law, it is illegal for employers to give IQ tests, but legal for colleges to do so (The SAT is pretty close to an IQ test). The BA is a Rube Goldberg machine used to show employers that applicants are smart enough for the job. We all pretend that it was the content that graduates learned in their courses, rather than the fact that they're smart that makes them good employees.

29. suzannehealy - October 11, 2010 at 03:21 pm

In response to #28. The program at WGU is fully accredited. Maybe it's a different animal then other online offerings because it does have a very rigorous assessment process with deadlines for completion.

I really don't feel like I'm missing anything by not attending a traditional class environment. I've attended class both ways, and in reality, sought out something that had less interaction with my fellow students. I'm sure that that's as individual as the student though.

30. acamarota - October 11, 2010 at 03:42 pm

As an online adjunct, I have worked seven days a week, 10 hours a day for the past two years with no benefits, no job security, and five days off at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Due to the low pay this is the minimum I need to survive, and I barely break $35K per year. The "time slice" approach to education simply does not work. Overworked and underpaid adjuncts are fast becoming the norm as schools deal with their shrinking budgets. This is NOT a system of education - it is a system of training with minimal human interaction. I am participating in the great dumbing down of America, as I teach students just enough to survive and function in a corporation but not enough to question the social and economic systems of which they are a part or to establish a meaningful life. Pre-programmed feedback from automated courses enables people to become consumers but not citizens who can think for themselves. Online courses have a certain limited value, but we need to see them for what they are, i.e. people interacting with machines, NOT with other people.

31. jdxxxe - October 11, 2010 at 04:16 pm

Re #1: How much does any student remember about any specific 46 hours spent in any course ever taken, at any school, at any level? I suspect that the best-case scenario is that you will remember that you found the material interesting and be able to recall a few key terms and perhaps an idea or two that might be of use to you when you return to the area at some future point. We rampantly delude ourselves as teachers if we expect to retain more that a tiny toehold in our students' minds down the road. Given the equifinality of outcomes, the teaching mode -- anywhere from what's described here to John Houseman teaching torts -- is ultimately pretty irrelevant.

32. 11299051 - October 11, 2010 at 04:41 pm

After I retired from my day job I accepted several online teaching assignments. While I enjoyed some interactions with select students who took time to call me with respect to their problems with research or applications to "real life" I found my own time to enjoy retirement, my family, or my home so drastically eroded as to almost cease to exist. For the great sum of $8K per annum, I developed at least one new course annually and taught seven recurring ones with only a two or three-day break between sessions. I discovered two things. One, I feel for those poor souls who, unlike me, have no option to earning a living this way. Two, I will pay for my children to attend classes and graduate from an institution where they also develop people skills by interacting with faculty. If they want to learn online they will have to pay for it out of their own pocket. Guess what they chose?

33. happyfeet1969 - October 11, 2010 at 05:27 pm

I felt this article was very informative to the changing structure of learning. I can remember a time in college that you had to turn in one paper that was "actually done on a computer and printed out." How times have changed and sometimes I think with change comes the fear of, "but this is not going to be like we have always done it." Nothing ever is the same and in many cases thankfully so (just think if medicine/science never evolved).

Yes, many teachers may feel pressure to do more. However, I think many of us can remember teachers that always went the extra mile and those that sat comfortably behind a desk after tenure was achieved giving students some busy work. Online learning and online teaching are just like anything else -- it is what you make out of it.

I do wish this article gave examples of what some of the courses are like instead of focusing on a student trying to rush to graduate or a non-traditional student taking English 101 after she had already graduated (I would also like to know how in the world that happened to begin with and if there is such one on one personal contact in the universitites why did she graduate without having 101)?

I would also like to know where these colleges and universities are that offer all this touchy feely human contact I am reading about? Where are all these professors looking to shape these young minds and let them explore the world of free thinking? I attended a community college and later graduated from a university, and maybe I am jaded by my experience but a few minutes in a professors office to hear, "no...I know that is what YOU think this means but it simply is not, so rewrite the paper. Now here are all my ideas on what this means, so take one of those and turn the paper in next week." Now, that is not exactly my idea of warm personal contact to let the student explore new ideas.

Now maybe other colleges and universities function differently, but I have talked to too many students who had the same experience and many who just got plain burned out.

I think this article makes us question, "what is success, what is learning, what are the skills employers look for?" I think it makes some feel uncomfortable that students are no longer under the direct thumb of a professor for 45 minutes or longer who may want to (unfortunately) keep students late in class, that students may progress faster that they feel comfortable with, students do not need to keep repeating the work and that yes, they can go on and graduate and have successful careers. Why is a new way to learn so bothersome to some? Is that not what it is all about when you become a teacher? You teach and help students to learn? Why is an online method any more radical than teachers who use a variety of different methods in a classroom?

As far as the question about the student doing the work and how instructors know who is doing the work, have you ever looked into online learning? Many of the schools that offer online learning have exit exams where the student must show up in person with an ID. I also read several concerns about group work among classmates. I think we all know how this works the majority of the time: the teacher divides the class into groups and often one or two people do the majority of the work. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen students so shy or so uninterested that they would just sit there and not participate (I read where one person wrote they actually sought out classes that had less interaction).

We have bought into the myth that all students are equal with equal learning abilities and that everyone needs to be super social to suceed in life. Everyone is different. Many have different gifts, talents, ablities and everyone learns at a different pace. Are we that insecure as a society that there may be some who learn faster or slower?

As far as the schedules these teachers keep, yes it seems to be a busy schedule. I have had friends who were doctors and the schedules were very similiar. I think teaching is a calling like anything else.

34. wi_dilettante - October 11, 2010 at 06:20 pm

Re: #33: "As far as the schedules these teachers keep, yes it seems to be a busy schedule. I have had friends who were doctors and the schedules were very similiar. I think teaching is a calling like anything else."

If I were remunerated like a doctor, I'd be happy to keep physician's hours. As it is, I'm not and I nearly do.

35. happyfeet1969 - October 11, 2010 at 06:24 pm

I think it depends on the doctor's speciality. I have known doctor's in general practice who work very long hours and have a lot of stress with patients but do not make the large sums of money people think they do. Specialists however will make considerably more.

36. brocansky - October 11, 2010 at 09:27 pm

The 40% retention rate is a reflection of the failures woven into a student's "learning" experience in this online class. It strips away socialization and any chance at feeling connected to a community. They're dropping out because there's nothing that motivates them to continue.

As one who takes pride in providing high quality, personalized, community-oriented online learning experiences that foster deep, reflection and critical thinking skills, I find this approach to online learning a disservice to students, as well as the future of higher education. It's the type of "online learning" that fragments faculty and administrators into two camps: those who support online classes and those who don't. I support online classes but not this kind.

As for a student's lack of engagement and learning in a discussion board, I agree. That's why professors need to move beyond discussion boards; they are old, dusty relics to our students. Blogs, wikis, VoiceThreads, social networks woven into a course management system foster student-student interaction and participatory learning in a visually rich environment.

Come on, folks. We can do better than this!

37. rpoulin - October 11, 2010 at 10:44 pm

As I understand it the Kentucky program is also competency-based. If that's the case the "46-hour" student wasn't really taking a class, but was probably just completing assessments for material he or she already know.
Why do we insist on students retaking classes for material that they have previously mastered?
Also, there seems to be lots of assumptions about the lack of interactivity in these courses when the article talks about faculty responding very quickly to students.

38. mdanieltex - October 11, 2010 at 11:03 pm

A student completing 113 quizzes in 46 hours could have done very little reading in preparation for those quizzes.

39. latino - October 12, 2010 at 12:01 am

I wonder if this kind of education has any impact making more competitive job candidates; this is very cheap and superficial learning process, the acquisition of information is just instructional,and an instructor does have clear idea on the learning process; besides, most of the time students will pass anyway.
So much political interest deciding on online product and subproducts, administrators buying whatever the industry sells, colleges and universities exploiting instructors (this is: it is exploitation and against human rights): truly a path for disaster in this corporative world that our students has to face.

40. lovetoteach2010 - October 12, 2010 at 01:29 am

The article said the student was getting ready to graduate and it evidentally was crunch time. I have seen students in traditional classroom settings with face to face instruction pull all night sessions to make it in time to graduate. If you take a class for weeks, I agree with #37, she was probably completing assessments for what she already knew.

Examples were given about how quickly teachers respond to students, but yet people feel there is a lack of a personal touch. I think it is a little odd to think that a personal touch or constructive criticism can only be given face to face. I'm also a little suprised that people think that instructors spend hour upon hour personally with each student in a traditional classroom setting.

I am also confused as to why people feel this kind of education is inferior to what employers are looking for in a prospective candidate. I read an article just today that said the reason so many people are NOT being hired is that they are unqualified. Are we to assume that all of those applying for jobs do not have a college degree? If they do, and they have a traditional degree through a college/university with a face to face professor, what went wrong that they are unqualified? Did they not retain enough information, did they not have enough face to face contact, did they not socialize enough with peers? If traditional classroom learning is vastly superior, what has happened to create all these unqualified job candidates? Why is online learning growing so much? Could it be that people need additional education to obtain a job, a better job and they simply do not have time to go through all of the bureaucacy that often comes with traditional learning? Where is the criticism of the colleges that now offer three year degrees so students can finish faster?

I really wish Mr. Parry wrote more about what the class content is and it would have given people a little bit more to go on because as a reader I am left with unanswered questions. Instead of questioning if this is a good way to educate students and questioning compensation teachers receive (yes we noticed the 120K sub headline for shock value only to read later that the teacher has several teaching "gigs" so to speak so the income is not from online teaching alone), I wish the article focused on the content of the classes and additional stories from more traditional students (not ones who already graduated and went back for a class) because that did not seem to me to be the typical student they are aiming for. Of course English 101 will not be difficult to someone who has a degree. I think the way it was written, it was made to sound like it was just a bunny class for everyone and that there is little content. I think there was a real opportunity to delve into what online learning really consists of and unfortunately, I think this article missed the mark. There are just too many unanswered questions that leave readers making assumptions.

41. annakarenina - October 12, 2010 at 05:41 am

Well, teaching at a South African university (I've taught at 5 of them now) I find that students do this sort of thing in local residential universities anyway: they miss deadlines all through the semester, then go to the dean with some excuse about life problems which gets them exempted from class and gives them extensions on all the lapsed deadlines, and then they do the equivalent of the whole course load in 48 hours and hand you this batch to mark with all the faculty support documents. Needless to say it is the exceptional student who can do well under such pressure, and for the most part it is mediocre to bad work you have to wade through to meet tight deadlines set by the very faculty administrators who exempted the students from their deadlines. Furthermore, when this happens in the last semester before graduation you may even be asked to exempt a student from substantial sections of the assessment altogether since they often threaten legal action if not passing a particular course in their final year which is NOT their major prevents them from being granted a degree. Having all of this done via computer networks may change the medium in some educational settings, but it certainly won't change the effect; as for vacations, for university teachers the 'long summer vacation' in the southern African system lasts from December 17 until January 9, and the short mid-year winter break (which coincides with the northern hemisphere's summer break) can be as short as July 10 to July 17: the reason - examination and faculty board meetings. The effect this has on research productivity is of course predictable since many junior staff cannot attend international conferences to test their research during term because of onerous teaching loads, and when the breaks are reduced for administrative meetings, they lose that opportunity; add into this toxic mix the flexible deadlines, and the ability to generate a whole load of responses to assessment tasks delivered to your inbox and you have Kafka meeting Dali. No wonder it is becoming increasingly difficult to get good graduate students interested in academic careers in South African universities. But the flooding of the system with techno-toys is unstoppable, and I'm certain once local administrators get wind of this latest 'innovation' they'll sell themselves into it and subject teachers to the 'system'.

42. jgiraldo - October 12, 2010 at 08:23 am

This exemplifies what education has become all about. It is $$$. The two aspects that seem to be relevant in the article are. First, this adjunct facutly is making what a full professor would wish to make. Second, the professor is paid based on the number of students enrolled in the class.
Is there any mention about how competitive these students are becoming by using this system? No, nowhere. Is there any info about how these students are doing in writing in their other classes? Not at all.
It is becoming more and more common to hear from companies that they are afraid to hire graduates without looking deeper into their preparation, simply because they realize universities/colleges are not preparing them. Are we accepting the USA is losing its competitive edge and let it go?
There is vast documentation showing that retaining information under this approach is very low. Don't forget that memorizing does not equate to learning. My next question is, how much of what is memorized can be truly considered learning? Finally, would you hire a student who got a degree this way, when there are great doubts about the capabilities of students who spend time in presential discussions?

43. hamilton1982 - October 12, 2010 at 10:23 am

Just as video killed the radio star I fear that the lure of anytime, anywhere online education solutions will damage much of the middle of the road traditional University feeding pool. Whether higher education as we know it sinks or swims in the face of this is an issue that is entirely dependent on how the Ivory Tower decides to engage with and utilize technologies for their long term gain.

44. latino - October 12, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Online does not guarantee better education if we do not have good student-citizens in high school: communities of people that know how to learn, people ready to learn using tools, to accept and to understand others, and to create possibilities for a better and sustainable world.
But, so far, this discussion is on national education and economy: who are the beneficiaries of thousands of non qualified students going to the market?

45. jnuttallphd - October 12, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I've been waiting a long time to see colleges and universities finally offering this kind of option. I never fit well into the standard class arrangement, myself. I have also taken 6 graduate courses via distance learning. Lectures were on video tape and test were taken when one was ready. It is a great way to learn.

46. lovetoteach2010 - October 12, 2010 at 02:11 pm

This exemplifies what education has become all about. It is $$$. The two aspects that seem to be relevant in the article are. First, this adjunct facutly is making what a full professor would wish to make. Second, the professor is paid based on the number of students enrolled in the class.
For #42: This is why this article should have focused on the content of online learning. Everyone and their brother keeps focusing on how much the teacher is paid and it not retaining what they are reading in front of them while accusing students of not doing the same. The article states that the teacher's income is not just from the online learning, so he is not making 120K based on the number of students enrolled. The article clearly states he has other teaching jobs. The reporter does not say what those are, but it is clear it is not just from online teaching.

47. blesstayo - October 12, 2010 at 02:48 pm

Is this reflective of the real world? Do new employees have all the time to learn whenever they want? May be all killer math and statistics courses should be 100% online so that students can graduate in ten years, or ask friends/family members/paid consultants to help them to complete the courses overnight!!! What happened to academic rigor and learning? Many students today are NOT interested in LEARNING but the grades and degrees!

48. 22187948 - October 13, 2010 at 12:23 pm

The answer to the question "Will Technology Kill the Academic Calendar?" is "It already has." There is no downtime or vacation where e-mail is concerned. We just finished our Fall break, a time I used to spend grading, working on the second half of the semester, and revising my own writing. This time I spent over four hours answering students' and administrators' e-mails, on everything from late submissions of work to advising matters to committee business to a request for musical selections for the next general faculty meeting. (OK, I didn't answer the last one, tempting as it was.)
As for Mr. Smith's courses, #9 contains a good comment: how is "Learn Anytime" really any different from the old mail- correspondence courses (often advertised on matchbook covers)?
For any interesting take on those, see Salinger's "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period."
And how can anyone--even this article's Mr. Smith--handle 400 students? Two details from the last page of the article seem to sum it up: A former student "found [English 102]'unbelievably' easy. . . . 'There was no learning,' she says."

49. dank48 - October 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Does an instructor in a classroom with students guarantee a good educational experience?

50. happyfeet1969 - October 13, 2010 at 02:44 pm

#48 Two details from the last page of the article seem to sum it up: A former student "found [English 102]'unbelievably' easy. . . . 'There was no learning,' she says."

The article said that it was a student who had already graduated and went back for English 101 to finish a nursing degree. Of course she would find it easy. My question is: how did she go to English 102 without 101? Where was the personal interaction there?

I think we also need to question how much spoon feeding adults need to finish college classes? If they need all this hand holding and personal one on one attention, are they really ready for college classes? Has anyone thought that those taking online classes can go through the work faster and without as much help needed as some students? The article also mentions fast response times of professors (in fact it seems to be much faster than when I was in college trying to track down professors who were only in their office for short periods of time).

51. 153584ods - October 13, 2010 at 03:00 pm

I have done both online courses & classroom based courses as a student and as a faculty member. I remember taking freshman level introductory courses in a lecture hall with 300 other students! Oh, yeah, there was alot of student interaction and classroom discussion with my cohort - just not about what was being "taught" in the classroom. And, have we forgotten that most semesters are between 15 and 16 weeks and that most classes meet for 2.5 hours/week - letting my calculator do the math, that's a total of 37.5 - 40 hours spent in any one course over the entire semester! I'm reading all these responses from folks who possibly are functioning in an administrative fugue - comment after comment was a complaint about not having enough "down time". I don't know where you work, but at my college fulltime faculty teach approximately 15 hours/week and are required to keep 10 hours/week in office hours - that's only 25 hours/week. Writing intensive and some natural science course will require more grading/prep time but not anywhere near the 40-60 hours per week professional administrators work. Additionaly, faculty get a full month off between fall and spring semesters and are paid WELL is they choose to teach 2 courses each summer session......good grief, folks, put a lid on the whining! As far as "learing" is concerned, I challenge any of you to remember any profound learning garnered in any of the freshman or sophomore level courses you took in college.....yeah, that's what I thought......

52. annakarenina - October 14, 2010 at 11:12 am

Dear 153584ods

Actually, I remember learning something quite valuable as a 16 year old first year student in a lecture with 350 students in the room. A lecture on Margaret Atwood's CAT'S EYE, using Helene Cixous and Julia Kristeva to frame a discussion about interrogating binary oppositions for identity formation struck the 16 year old I was then as a useful way to analyse other aspects of the world I was living in in 1989. Before computer networks, outside of interactive tutorial classes, with minimal technological intervention (no overhead transparencies, no microphone, just lights in the lecture hall and some fans to keep the air circulating in Beattie Lecture Theatre).

Oh well, guess the ellipses you gave all of us to reflect in just weren't the right sort of way to gauge whether people did learn anything in first or second year.

53. jamccain - October 16, 2010 at 01:40 pm

1)@profmomof1 you hit the nail straight on the head.

2)Wow. Some of you giving reports instead of just a brief comment, good responses though.

54. jamccain - October 16, 2010 at 01:56 pm

#42- "Don't forget that memorizing does not equate to learning. My next question is, how much of what is memorized can be truly considered learning? Finally, would you hire a student who got a degree this way, when there are great doubts about the capabilities of students who spend time in presential discussions?"

Trust me I could not agree with you more, but isn't this the method that all of us have been using from elementary to junior high to high school as well as college? At least MOST of us have. Key Phrases: remembering facts for tests (which determined if you pass or fail) and pedagogical-authoritative style of teaching even in college.

55. terrya - October 19, 2010 at 02:09 pm

I used my blog to comment on this article and got more than the one line allocated to me in the original article!- see http://terrya.edublogs.org/2010/10/12/on-self-paced-learning/
Terry Anderson

56. momprof - October 27, 2010 at 04:50 am

Wandering a bit off the question of online learning into the comment about faculty having it easy--#51 says full-time faculty at his/her institution only spend about 25 hours a week working: 15 teaching, 10 office. I remember, when I went to college, looking at my schedule compared to high school and thinking wow, what a LOT of free time! This is going to be great! Well, no. It was great--but there was not a lot of free time, once I buckled down and did the work. Same here. Don't assume your teachers are working only the hours they are in the classroom or the office. Bear in mind that for every hour of classroom time you can assume at least an hour of prep/grading time. So your faculty's 15 hours of classes means 30 hours of work. I teach 12 hours/week. I work on campus, flat out (usually no lunch break, maybe 5 mins down time chatting with a colleague), for 40 hours a week--7 hours for 4 days, 12 or more the 5th day. (That day, I do go to lunch.) I also do grading and course prep at home--several more hours each week. I have 2 children and spend 2 hours a day in the car. My husband's teaching schedule is the same as mine, and we clear around $70K annually together. Not complaining--till someone jumps to the conclusion I'm working 25 hours/week based on my posted hours.

57. arrive2__net - November 04, 2010 at 03:42 am

This model of college learning seem very practical for courses where the learning and subject matter are well defined and the students are capable, and motivated for success. Some students who find the conventional model of college-terms slow, boring, or tedious may prosper in the self-paced environment. It would be interesting to conduct research on the students who complete these type courses to see if they can get appropriate scores on corresponding CLEP tests, which, historically, are validated on students who take courses in the traditional face-to-face model. Will the self-paced course students achieve comparable results?

Bernard Schuster

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