Online Education (New Media)


Excellent pushback in Mark Edmundson’s column in the NYT against so-called online education. For Edmundson, education is dialogical, ad hoc, and presentist. You can’t take the form out of content. The lecturer responds to visual and other cues in real-time. About online educatiuon he writes:

Online education is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It tends to be a monologue and not a real dialogue. The Internet teacher, even one who responds to students via e-mail, can never have the immediacy of contact that the teacher on the scene can, with his sensitivity to unspoken moods and enthusiasms. This is particularly true of online courses for which the lectures are already filmed and in the can. It doesn’t matter who is sitting out there on the Internet watching; the course is what it is.

The problem is not with “new media.” And it’s not like I don’t like flat things and their “look.” The problem is that online education is not even a good new media object. It’s too synthetic, too screen dependent, without any immersive quality. It doesn’t look good and it doesn’t work in real-time. Online education is a non-hybrid virtual object with no physcial connection.

Edmundson continues:

Not long ago I watched a pre-filmed online course from Yale about the New Testament. It was a very good course. The instructor was hyper-intelligent, learned and splendidly articulate. But the course wasn’t great and could never have been. There were Yale students on hand for the filming, but the class seemed addressed to no one in particular. It had an anonymous quality. In fact there was nothing you could get from that course that you couldn’t get from a good book on the subject.

A lecture might be “performative,” but it is not like a performance that you can perform and then record for posterity. I too have watched esteemed colleagues delivering lectures that then get canned online. It’s talk, talk, talk with no interaction. It flattens the content, it flattens the  professor. I had the same thought as Edmundson. I’d rather read their books, and I’d rather my students did so too. But that’s the what happens in online education and “flipped classes,” to replace reading with watching.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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3 Responses to Online Education (New Media)

  1. Good online education is possible. I’ve participated, both as a student and as a course developer. The problem is that good online education will involve more time and effort from the teacher, rather than less. That said, there’s very little measurement by which one could determine whether any existing f2f teaching is any good.

  2. donovanschaefer says:

    I was talking to a friend of mine last night who is teaching in a Syracuse city schools special ed program right now. She said the difference between having 8 student bodies in the class and 12 student bodies in the class is palpable. I think it points to the limits of the Enlightenment model of education–a set of limits that practicing teachers are well aware of–the forgetting of bodies, the reduction of the classroom to a space of digital knowledge transmission rather than intellectual and affective transformation.

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