"Many would argue that online education is currently exacting such a price. Critics are already lamenting what is lost, particularly from interpersonal relations in the classroom, but the real test of online education will be what is on balance gained."

Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#520 Toward A Philosophy Of Online Education


The posting below looks at the philosophical basis for the integration of on-line education in higher education. to It is from Chapter 4: Toward a Philosophy of Online Education by Douglas F. Johnson, University of Florida in Developing Faculty to Use Technology, Programs and Strategies to Enhance Teaching, edited by David G. Brown, International Center for Computer-Enhanced Learning, Wake Forest University. Copyright ? 2003 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Anker Publishing Company, Inc. 176 Ballville Road P.O. Box 249 Bolton, MA 01740-0249 USA. . Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Beyond the Campus: How Colleges and Universities Form Partnerships with Their Communities

Tomorrow's Academy

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For every society advance, there are trade-offs. In one of my favorite movie scenes, from Inherit the Wind, about the famous 1925 Scopes trial (Tennessee vs. John Scopes) in which the propriety of teaching evolution was debated, the teacher's defense attorney, Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy), argues before the jury:

Progress has never been a bargain; you have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there's a man who sits behind a counter and says, "All right, you can have a telephone; but you lose privacy, and the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote, but at a price; you lose the right to retreat behind the powder-puff or your petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air; but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline.

Many would argue that online education is currently exacting such a price. Critics are already lamenting what is lost, particularly from interpersonal relations in the classroom, but the real test of online education will be what is on balance gained.

At its heart, the debate over online teaching and learning is about the meaning and purpose of education. According to Aristotle, education's purpose was to make people virtuous. He asserted that all seek what they believe to be good. Evil, then, is the result of ignorance, as people choose what they mistake for good. The solution to evil is education, because only through proper knowledge and understanding can people identify and choose what is truly good. Because of its integral relationship to virtue, Aristotle argued, education was the state's highest duty, a duty that the modern United States has enshrined in every state constitution. Likewise, Aristotle's conception of the critical importance of education supports all subsequent philosophies of education. Over the centuries, scholars have adapted and reinterpreted Aristotle's articulation of the purpose and philosophy of education. Medieval theologians, such as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, saw education as critical to purifying the soul. Renaissance scholars, such as Galileo, Newton, and Kepler, saw education as the cornerstone of understanding the world we inhabit, and their theological contemporaries, Erasmus and Luther, viewed education as a tool to critique, to refine, and to improve social institutions. Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, and the Enlightenment rationalists asserted the primacy of reason for understanding self and society. In the 19th and 20th centuries, these assertions bore fruit in the universal education movement and the development of public school systems. In the 21st century, the newest refinement of education is technological, and because of this development, a new dialogue must begin to articulate the underlying value and purposes of education in a technologically driven world. This essay does not aim to present a fully developed philosophy of online education but to sketch the framework for such a philosophy. A philosophy of online education must recognize and incorporate a number of critical constructs, which include:

* an understanding of cognition and how people learn: What, for example, does information processing research indicate about how the mind works and how to maximize learning?

* an understanding of learning theory and learning styles: In this active field, much of the work remains hypothetical and unresearched; still, Sternberg's triarchic theory of intelligence and Gardner's multiple intelligences, among others, offer fruitful material for examining teaching and learning.

* an articulation of the types and values of interaction: For example, three types of interactions are often identified as critical to the learning process: learner/content, learner/instructor, and learner/learner.

* an examination of what elements of human interaction might be lost and how that loss might be mitigated: Part of the tradition conception of academia asserts the value of the learning community; how can a learning community be created and fostered in an online environment?

* an identification of the critical elements of traditional pedagogy and how they might be preserved in an online context: Often-raised concerts about the content of online courses along wit the feat that lone courses may be dumbed down perhaps to compensate for the absence of direct student support must be addressed and mitigated; the effective equivalence of online and face-to-face courses must be asserted as a desired and measured goal.

* a discussion of what valued ends might be gained: The philosophy of traditional education often asserts its role in citizenship and preparing students for democratic participation; so, too, online education must articulate its own explicit and implicit outcomes, not least the preparation of students to be active participants in, rather than passive recipients of, an increasingly technology-driven world.

As philosophy of online education must also recognize the fundamental factors that are spreading technology throughout society, which include:

* the expansion of reach and market

* the advantages of convenience

* the necessity for lifelong learning and the development of just-in-time skills

* the movement away from long-term careers to frequent job changes

* the increasing migration of corporation, jobs, and workers around the world

As Internet use increases within the realm of business communication, marketing, and sales, so does its emphasis in online teaching and learning. As technology impels business and society to be more international, more flexible, and more carefully targeted to specific needs, education must follow. Creating a flexible leaning process and an environment that incorporates online technologies can attract more students and improve their access to learning opportunities while enhancing their understanding and retention of new information about both the process and the content of education. Such a learning environment can best target specific and rapidly changing educational needs.

These changes do not mitigate the rationale for the traditional liberal arts curriculum, as many fear. In fact, they reinforce it, for what can be of greater value in a just-in-time, needs-driven world than a broad base of understanding, a demonstrated ability to learn a wide variety of subjects, and a proven track record of learning how to learn? Online education presents important opportunities o reach a mobile population, but it must be structured on clearly conceived concepts so that the cherished and time-tested educational purposes of the past may continue to add value to the learning needs of the present.