Category: Technology

Academic expectations for online education have dipped, while the quality and enrollment are still up, according to a new survey, reported by Inside Higher Ed.

The new report, “Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States,” which surveyed more than 4,700 colleges and universities, concludes that the growth of online enrollment is slowing  and that a gulf is widening between institutions that “have” online courses and programs and those that “don’t want” such online courses.

According to Jeff Seaman, co-director of the group that conducted the survey, “I think its better to call them the ‘have’ and the ‘don’t want’ — since the very beginning we have seen a group of institutions for which online was not a good fit (typically smaller schools and many of the traditional liberal arts institutions). This has not changed. What has changed is they now have had a much more negative view about all aspects of online learning (its quality, its value, its role in higher ed, etc.).”

Read more at Inside Higher Ed.


The National Labor College, an AFL-CIO backed institution, is closing due to declining interest, some untimely building project expenses, and a failed distance education attempt. The closure is another indicator of big labor’s decline and a reminder that distance education isn’t an automatic panacea.

The college’s president, Paula Peinovich, said other colleges, especially small religious colleges, should learn a lesson from the Labor College’s demise.

Quoted in Inside Higher Ed (IHE), Peinovich said, “I think many, many small colleges that are supported by major social and religious organizations are learning this lesson: visions, wonderful visions that bring together the best for the institution and its supporting organization can be changed by time – time and tide.”

IHE noted that there’s another lesson Peinovich has: don’t build fancy buildings without a business model that works. “Don’t build a lot of buildings,” she said. “Hear me, hear me, Catholic college presidents.”

For the full story, see Inside Higher Ed, “Labor College, backed by the AFL-CIO for decades, closes because of finances” 


Two articles worth reading again, one recent, one from a couple of years ago, highlight why the liberal arts are crucial for our future.

The first, published in 2011, is a report from Inside Higher Ed about how Chinese universities have begun to realize the necessity of the liberal arts for creating and sustaining a culture worth having.

Studying Latin and Greek in China

“While Chinese universities are discussed in the United States as science and engineering-focused, narrowly so, Sun Yat-sen University is part of a growing movement in China to promote general education — which includes global (meaning Western) philosophy and culture.

“Boya College at Sun Yat-sen is a liberal arts institution at which an intense general education sequence in the first two years includes elements of Chinese culture (classical literature, calligraphy, history) and also considerable study of Western civilization, with every student taking not only English, but also Latin, Greek, and courses focused on specific authors (Homer, Herodotus, Dante) and periods (such as ancient Hebrew civilization). Courses also focus on such topics as political philosophy and musicology.

All classes are taught in small groups, with students required to participate, to read individually and respond to great works, and to write extensively. Beyond writing requirements for class, each student must write one 5,000-word essay each month on any topic not related to a course.

Gan said that the program — along with summer institutes along the same lines appearing at other universities — reflects a desire to break out of the “overly specialist training” that has dominated Chinese universities. “What has been lacking” in Chinese universities, he said, “has been the humanities.” 

These programs, he said, are needed because they are part of being a well-educated person. “I don’t believe general education can help a worker find a better job,” he said. “The danger in today’s global capitalist age is that money is seen as the highest value, but there is other value — in thinking — that has much higher value than money, and that is the purpose of general education.” [Emphasis added]

The second, more recent article in the Huffington Post by the president of Gordon College (MA) notes that the liberal arts are perhaps the most practical and important element for our educational and cultural future. The reason is rooted in their integrative character. They help us understand how we and the things around relate to one another. A specialist may be quite expert, but without a broader, integrative understanding and appreciation how that specialization fits in the wider world, it will often become worthless or, worse, reductionistic or even tyrannical.

D. Michael Lindsay writes,

Certainly, the twentieth century was an era of specialization, with a number of highly specific majors ballooning to match the highly specific requirements of a specialized job market. But our 21st century has already demonstrated that it will be an era of integration, not specialization. Those most likely to make an impact in this new generation will have a broad, holistic knowledge base and a drive to connect disparate interests through innovative problem solving. As I’ve noted before, the liberal arts approach prepares students to think holistically, drawing together many schools of thought and disciplinary approaches.

Indeed, the pendulum of popular opinion may have already begun its swing back toward a healthy respect for the humanities and social sciences. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences — a large cohort of public and private sector leaders and educators including presidents of major corporations and universities — recently released a report, The Heart of the Matter, which stresses the indispensability of the disciplines. What’s more, it does so chiefly by considering who is fit to lead in the 21st century: “Who will lead America into a bright future?” the report asks. Their answer? “Citizens who are educated in the broadest possible sense, so that they can participate in their own governance and engage with the world. An adaptable and creative workforce…” The Commission understands the vital importance of holistic thinking in the century to come. [Emphasis added]

Duke University has published a report evaluating its first MOOC course , “Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach.” The detailed report is extremely helpful for seeing how both students and faculty members participated in and evaluated their experiences with this triall MOOC class.  Only 2.5 percent of the whopping 12,000+ students who initially enrolled took the final exam. So for all the buzz and hype and work that went into the course, only a tiny  percentage of students saw it to the end and benefited fully from it.

But this was the university’s first attempt, so where it goes from here is anybody’s guess.

Here’s the full Duke MOOC Report.


Stanford University Professor Jennifer Summit’s fascinating article on “Renaissance Humanism and the Future of the Humanities” (Literature Compass, 9/10 (2012): 665–678), raises a number of important questions worth discussing regarding not only the future of the humanities, but the past and future of liberal arts education, broadly understood.

Part of the challenge she raises is the daunting task of trying to sort through the

thoroughly secular Modern (and Post-Modern) spins on
the emergent secular Renaissance redefinitions of
a sacred Medieval understanding of wisdom-and-discipleship filtered through
a frequently syncretistic reading of the pagan Greeks (ala Plato and Aristotle, especially) of
a Solomonic (Proverbs 1-13), Pauline (Eph. 6:4) and Hebraic (as in Hebrews 12) vision of paideia.

For example, consider this passage and its challenging questions from Professor Summit:

“. . . [T]he deep history of the studia humanitatis encourages us to view the humanities as a long-term dialectic between episteme and techne, whose two poles, equally valuable, are necessary, though difficult, to balance. Formulating the problem this way invites the humanities to respond to the different and more interesting challenge of not just defending embattled turf, but engaging in the necessary task of self-definition for a new age, which might begin with questions such as these: what kinds of knowledge (episteme) do the humanities produce, and what kinds of skills (techne)? What is the relationship between the teaching of knowledge and skills and moral education (paideia, or phronesis)? And what impact do digital cultures of literacy – not to mention visual, musical, and informational consumption – have on the epistemic and technical practices of our disciplines, as well as on our understanding of the moral and ethical challenges of the world into which we are launching our students?

Read the entire article here.

An article by Nicholas Carr in the MIT Tech Review. TH: Derek Halvorson and Nick Lantinga:

The growing popularity–or at least hype–of the so-called Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, may be changing the higher ed landscape and forcing administrators at bricks-and-mortar colleges to ponder the future of their own institutions. According to a recent NY Times article,

“The spread of MOOCs is likely to have wide fallout. Lower-tier colleges, already facing resistance over high tuition, may have trouble convincing students that their courses are worth the price. And some experts voice reservations about how online learning can be assessed and warn of the potential for cheating.”

The challenge lies mostly for voc-tech-oriented colleges and universities where job competency has never been their strong suit.  Those who receive training and skills through other experiences and need but a bit of theory may soon fulfill the dream of the Land Grant universities– Continue reading

A UCLA philosophy professor argues that the buzz over distance education is highly overrated. It confuses cool new gym equipment with working out and getting in shape:

“Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas. As information breaks loose from bookstores and libraries and floods onto computers and mobile devices, that training becomes more important, not less.

Educators are coaches, personal trainers in intellectual fitness. The value we add to the media extravaganza is like the value the trainer adds to the gym or the coach adds to the equipment. We provide individualized instruction in how to evaluate and make use of information and ideas, teaching people how to think for themselves.

Just as coaching requires individual attention, education, at its core, requires one mind engaging with another, in real time: listening, understanding, correcting, modeling, suggesting, prodding, denying, affirming, and critiquing thoughts and their expression.”

Read more at Don’t Confuse Technology With Teaching – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Those of us who have been less than enthusiastic about the distant learning craze are not all Luddites, as the common uncharitable blowback suggests. We don’t all hate technology; we just hate bad education and the flashing lights, bells and whistles that disguise it.

Our secular culture’s idolatrous embrace of technology as the savior of whatever ails us is a fundamental rejection of the true Savior of the world and the fount of all knowledge and wisdom. Accompanying the spiritual blindness which embraces every new gizmo as a “must have” or “wave of the future” is often a flawed view of education.  Technolaters fundamentally misunderstand the personal and spiritual character of education. As Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life, said, a student when mature will be like his teacher.  The teacher, not the technology (including books), is the heart of genuine education (understood in the biblical sense of the paideia of the Lord; Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12).

Technology that supplements such faithful teaching and personal mentorship, rather displacing them, can be warmly embraced. But those who pledge their troth to every idol made by human hands by definition lack the discernment to distinguish between that which supplements the good, the true and the beautiful and that which displaces them.

“Th[e] Industrial Revolution, which started a century and a half ago in the west and still has not come to a complete end, can be regarded in part as an unmistakable expression of a living faith, i.e. the faith that things would get better and better through the advance of modern technology within the framework of a growing free market production. [author’s original emphasis]

“Without this deep faith in the intensely redemptive power of technological-economic progress, the Industrial Revolution is and remains a phenomenon that cannot be explained. I think, for example, of  the leading American industrialist Carnegie, who wrote a book around the turn of the [20th] century which he entitled The Gospel of Wealth. In this book he says that we must understand that ‘obedience’ to the laws of industrial progress guarantees us the joy of a new life in which poverty and oppression disappear and happiness returns to the earth. if such a faith is dominant and becomes generally accepted—and it has become accepted to a considerable extent—then there is no longer any barrier in allowing economics and technology to provide the leadership, not just in some areas of life, but in principle all of them. Because of this faith, economics and technology, as saviours and pioneers leading the way to a new era, assume the role of infallible guides.

” . . . But if it turns out that the driving force of a faith is embedded within the forward march of technology and the economic system, and that this faith is still operative in part today, then we must admit that the danger of an overdevelopment of both technology and the economic system was present from the outset. Their expansion was accompanied by an expectation of happiness that relativized anything that might raise objections against them.” [author’s original emphasis]

–Bob Goudzwaard, Aid for the Overdeveloped West (Wedge, 1975), pp. 3-4