My new school?

Did your jaw drop at the end of that? Mine did.

Is this a bit like a McDonald’s commercial that temporarily blinds you to the fact that they serve grease on cardboard? Doesn’t make me think any worse of the commercial, though.

This caught me at an interesting point, since it seems to wrap up a lot of my recent shift in research agenda. More on that soon.

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  1. Posted 1/14/2009 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    What is Kaplan University? I mean: does it have a bad reputation to compensate, or something to make your jaw drop? Because the music is catchy and the editing is neat — but that’s not a bid deal by today’s YouTube standards.

    Regarding the message, it basically says: “We are so clueless about new technology, we assume Education 2.0 simply means putting classes on YouTube.”; I’ve seen nothing in there about students interacting one with another (or using a keyboard at all), not to say getting up to the back board and takng an active part or correcting the teacher, not even the teacher asking questions. Forcing participation onto people is kind of a contradiction.

    Don’t get me wrong: puting your classes on-line is really easy now, and most professors think you are the antechrist if you do so. Putting your face instead of your slides is a common mistake, too (but I would allow it for uplifting licence). What I like the best is common people’s (former students’) reaction: “But there’s no way they’ll come to class then! — Yeah, and the point it that this doesn’t have to matter. Talk to any junior teacher about Fridays.”

  2. Alex H.
    Posted 1/14/2009 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Not sure that it has a bad reputation, particularly, just not the strongest. Yes, it’s amorphous platitudes, but the basic idea–that traditional universities stifle talent as often as the foster it–resonates with me.

    Oh, and I’ve done both face and slides, and tend to do face. I guess I’m living the common mistake? My impression from students is that they far prefer that… I haven’t seen the research on it. I’m still muddling through a bit, I think, and probably reinventing the wheel along the way.

  3. Posted 1/14/2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    What is new school {seesmic_video:{“url_thumbnail”:{“value”:””}”title”:{“value”:”What is new school “}”videoUri”:{“value”:””}}}

  4. Posted 1/15/2009 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I see this as part of the ripple effect. If you’re in the university system, especially in a program dealing with digital internet communications in any way, then it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re well ahead of the curve. While the internet is indeed growing in popularity and being used in many different ways, there’s still a gap between the old ideas at the university level and actual practices in mass culture.

    You can argue all sorts of examples against that, but Kaplan is first and foremost a commercial venture (though I’d argue all universities are such at a fundamental level… even QU regularly dismisses the needs of its actual paying students in favor of catering to the Open Houses and guided tours, as any grad student who has had saturday classes and tried to park there will readily attest to). And it’s aiming at a broader audience than traditional universities and colleges are.

    Those ideas are very new to my sister, for example, who has two daughters and will be looking at colleges with them sooner than she may wish to. This kind of commercial is aimed at her level of internet use and familiarity, and seems to me to be saying “The internet is changing college, too.” For veterans of this field of inquiry, or anyone with any kind of experience in using the pre-internet ubiquity universities, this is a supreme “Duh” moment. But to many who went to college before the mid-90s and never looked back, this can be a pretty startling realization. My own mind was blasted wide open when I stepped back into the university world. I still remember my freshman job at the library on Saturday nights, filing new book entries into the card catalog by hand.

    I liked the commercial, and actually applauded Kaplan for it when I saw it on TV. (I was fumbling for the DVR remote to fast forward the commercials when it started, and I like the actor they used so I paused.) I especially liked it given that I’m currently unemployed due to some very questionable business decisions by the Connecticut marketing industry which seemed to unilaterally decide to get rid of their interactive departments in favor of print this past December, a move which has all of the interactive employees they laid off scratching their heads and wondering what the hell they were thinking. Kaplan’s commercial seemed a breath of fresh air amid the stagnant management priorities and “core incompetencies”. It may be lipstick on a pig, but it’s a sign that the interactive social changes roll on, and those who can adapt to it and harness it get to live one more day, while those who don’t get mercilessly ground under.

  5. Posted 1/16/2009 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I thought it was a pretty horrifying commercial, actually. I wrote about it at some length here, but the short version is I have three basic problems with it.

    First, it projects the idea that the online classes Kaplan (or anyone else, for that matter) offers will be classes from “the great minds,” when the reality at the vast majority of institutions– particularly schools like Kaplan or Phoenix U.–is that these classes are taught by disenfranchised part-timers.

    Second, the depiction of students in the online class and what will be expected of them is inaccurate and troubling to me. I mean, there is one “real” student who is doing the class at the kitchen table while a bunch of kids are running around (and having taught online for a while now, I can tell you there are a lot of moms with little kids online nowadays). The rest of them though are either literally laying around (a woman with her cat, a male model in bed), or really doing something else entirely and merely taking the class “in the background” of a series of multitasks.

    Third, and this is what Bertil already said, it doesn’t feature or highlight any of the things that are actually useful about online courses: interaction, small groups, multiple lines of discussion, shifting of time, etc., etc. “The next generation” or “web 2.0” or whatever you want to call it education is not “add lecture online, stir.”

  6. alex
    Posted 1/16/2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny, I wasn’t particularly struck by the mode of teaching so much as the idea that traditional institutions are messed up.

    Naturally, you wouldn’t want to “just add video,” though I have to say, in my experience this alone can change the dynamic of a class. At UB, they captured my lectures and made them available online. Many students preferred this to a large lecture hall: it was more comfortable, they could hear better, it was less distracting (people weren’t whispering or shuffling papers), they could go back and listen to a section they hadn’t quite understood. This was a large (c. 400 person) course, and I heard that many of them had formed watching groups, where they popped some popcorn, sat on a couch with friends, and watched the lecture, interjecting (Mystery Science 3000 style) and discussing the material in a way they wouldn’t otherwise. So, I won’t discount the “just add video” approach entirely.

    As an aside, it’s really hard to show people using web 2.0 tools and making it look interesting. If you look at the promotional materials for my on-ground university, they also have kids playing frisbee, lounging on the quad, and generally looking way happier than they do when I see them :). Of course, universities rightly try to sell an experience, and not just the transmission of knowledge. And, frankly, I think online education has yet to figure out what that experience is (or, rather, experiences are) and how it differs from off-line experiences.

    Oh, and I’ve seen the research on multi-tasking, but I also know that my students do have kids at home, and do listen to lectures while driving or working out. There are a lot of ways that people engage in online materials, and I think that’s a good thing.

    As to your first point, I agree. Well, I should note that while disenfranchised, some of these teachers may be quite good–I don’t know enough to form an opinion. But what is bad for the faculty (under-supported, under-trained, under-powered) is bad for students. On the other hand, my students do learn from the “great minds.” That’s what we have books for, and for more recent great minds, lectures online. In some sense, I do think that you get the opportunity to hear from a diversity of accomplished voices that your home institution might not already be able to offer.

  7. netwoman
    Posted 1/16/2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I actually liked this – regardless of the promo for Kaplan. It reminds me of this YouTube video in K-12 education:

    The premise is the same; the current educational system isn’t working for our kids, they need more – and we need instructors to step up to the plate, keep up with the technologies they’re using in order to reach them, teach them, collaborate with them, prepare them and provide tools & skills for the future – whatever that may look like.

    Didactic styles of teaching and plastic sheets on overhead projectors are archaic and boring. And we wonder why students think the educational system stifles them?

  8. Posted 1/16/2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    This is interesting. I’ve been thinking a lot about graduate school lately (the company I work for offers tuition reimbursement) and I’m really tempted by online classes. I travel about 25% of the time for business and the time-shifting aspect of online courses is attractive to me.

    My last attempt at graduate school was largely a negative experience…I was in a new and expensive city (Chicago, IL), all by myself, and quickly got burned out. I didn’t feel at all inspired in my classes and it didn’t take me long to zone out completely. I wonder if my experience would have been at all different if I had stayed in Buffalo where the cost of living was cheaper and studies online at my own pace.

    I often joke that I’ve learned more since graduating from college than I did while I was there. About 95% of what I read (and I read a lot) is non-fiction. I read a lot of political philosophy…mostly Anarchist and Marxist books and have been part of a few small study groups or taken short classes at the Brecht Forum.

    I think the mix of autodidactic learning and the occasional structured class has been good for me. Maybe an online masters program would be a good synthesis of the two for me. I don’t know.

    I’d love to hear different thoughts on this. Very interesting topic.


  9. Jeff
    Posted 1/17/2009 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    I felt that the creative and production of the commercial itself were pretty good. Of course, I have no way of telling for sure in that the intent of the commercial is to generate inquiries that can be converted into potential enrollments…so not having access to that information leaves me a few data points short of truly evaluating the effectiveness of the message.

    That being said, the message itself reminded me of a video done by Michael Wesch essentially demonstrating the disconnect between traditional teaching methodologies and the way in which the current generation learns.

  10. Posted 1/18/2009 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    What I mean by the students– and their literal posture in this ad– is that it reinforces the idea that online classes aren’t a lot of work, that they are the sort of thing you can do while lying around or while doing things that are more important. You know that much cheesier commercial with a young woman in pajamas talking about how she’s getting ready to go to class? This is a classier version of that.

    I think that sort of depiction is problematic because it sets up a situation for both students and teachers that online classes are “easier” than face to face classes. I teach a lot online, and while most of my colleagues and my students have come around and are beginning to recognize that the online class is actually probably more work, not less, there are still a lot of skeptics out there. To me, this ad is the sort of thing that these skeptics would point to and say “see?” this is not real!” It’s also the sort of thing that sets students up: “wow, I can get a college degree just by laying on the couch with my laptop and my cat. Sign me up!”

    And in a way– a completely unintentional way– I think this kind of ad creates a bigger distance between the online learning experience and the “real” learning experience. This is something I worry about with my own online teaching. To use a very local example: I teach at Eastern Michigan University, which is about 7 or 8 miles from the University of Michigan. We are regional, “opportunity granting” institution that lets in just about everyone who applies, and we’ve had some problems lately with falling enrollments. We’re pressing hard to get more classes and even complete programs online. In contrast, the U of M is a major and important university, it’s highly selective at all levels, they turn away far more students than they could ever admit, and they don’t really care about the online class thing. So, there already is a “class” difference between EMU and U of M; what I worry about is that the more we go online, the bigger that class difference will get, rendering schools like EMU, Kaplan, U of Phoenix the “not really a college” college, and the U of Ms of the world even more rarefied than they already are.

    As for the lecture online thing: I would agree with you there that putting a lecture online is probably as effective or more effective than the live lecture in front of 400 students. Having said that though, I’m not so sure that either format is really that pedagogically effective. I mean, if the choice for a mode of delivery is the big lecture hall class or the online class, I’d go with the online class. But I frankly think that the lecture hall mode, be it in person or online, is not the best pedagogical option out there. It saves institutions a ton of money, but do students learn by sitting and watching? Mostly not.

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