Online courses break new academic ground

October 10, 2013

Following the precedent of Harvard and MIT, Georgetown is now offering its first online class this semester through the edX platform. The class is titled “Globalization’s Winners and Losers” and will feature recorded lectures by many professors covering different subjects. Additionally, the University has also invested $8 million into an initiative for technology-enhanced learning, with a third of the money probably going into the online education movement. Students can now expect to see more of these massive open online courses, or MOOCs, offered as an alternate method of earning academic credits.

As of now, Georgetown MOOCs are free and open to anyone who can access them via the edX website. This accessibility could be a major boon for providing access to higher education to students who, due to financial or locational obstacles, wouldn’t otherwise have had an opportunity to take these classes. Quality education shouldn’t only be an option for students from privileged backgrounds, and expanding online education options may be an effective method of equalizing the playing field.

As universities continue to expand the use of online education by offering paid, full-credit courses, some university faculty and administrators fear that mass-producing online lectures from elite universities will undermine the benefits of public education at other institutions.

San José State University faculty wrote an open letter to Harvard professor Michael Sandel, claiming that MOOCs are a push to “replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.” Nevertheless, there is no clear evidence that reliably compares the performance of online courses vis-á-vis their traditional in-class counterparts. Recent studies and polls on the effectiveness of online learning have so far shown inconclusive data, with results all over the spectrum.

Electronic learning may hold substantial benefits for students and is certainly an option worth exploring further. Substituting some classes with MOOCs could reduce tuition costs and increase accessibility without losing most of the benefits of a traditional lecture class. However, sitting behind a screen, even if there is a chat room feature, will never be the same as participating in a classroom.

As this initiative develops, administrators and faculty must not forget that education should be as much about the material as it is about the experience. If, in the future, the University increases its online offerings, it must ensure that they meet the high standards students have come to expect from their academic experience here. A Georgetown education should always be a Georgetown education, and the chances that can happen online are slim.

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The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!


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