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Oct. 11, 2000
OSWEGO -- Because of technology, within the next few years many faculty and students will begin to face a redefinition of what it means to be a teacher and a learner, according to Dr. Robert Cole, assistant professor of communication studies at Oswego State.
Cole is the editor of a new book, "Issues in Web-Based Pedagogy: A Critical Primer," which examines the theoretical and practical concerns associated with online teaching.
The book is an edited collection of original research, in which contributors ask critical questions about teaching and learning through the Internet. Included in the book is an essay by Michael J. Ameigh, Oswego's assistant provost for distance learning.
Cole says two concerns in particular stand out: The turning of higher education into a commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace, and the lack of strong evidence that online teaching makes for good pedagogy.
"There's not enough research for us to be jumping in wholeheartedly," Cole says. "There are a lot of questions, but not a lot of good answers."
Online learning is a growing phenomenon, Cole says. The SUNY Learning Network expects to soon have 47 of the 64 SUNY campuses participating in its Web-based distance education program, topping 20,000 enrollments with just under 1,500 courses. Five years ago, the network offered eight courses and enrolled only 119 students.
The demand for distance education courses has fueled the attitude that education is a product to be sold at the greatest profit margin, Cole says. Some book publishers who once only provided texts for courses have begun to prepackage and sell complete courses, including lecture notes and exams, that are ready for mounting online, he says.
Cole, who is also the director of women's studies at Oswego, expresses concern over the quality of the online learning experience.
"Everything we've discovered about teaching -- from the ancient Greeks to John Dewey's progressive models to reflections on the pedagogy of the oppressed -- highlights the personal contact that must take place if true teaching is to happen," he says. "Teaching is a very human activity, and the less mediation that gets in the way the better."
Some research does seem to suggest that online education can be just as effective as traditional teaching, especially a 1999 report in which Thomas Russell reviewed more than 350 studies to conclude that the extent of student learning is nearly identical irrespective of the medium.
In assessing how sound online pedagogy really is, Cole says, "We just don't have the kind of necessary evidence that comes from rigorous research to justify this tremendous shifting of limited resources."
Cole prepares his lecture notes in PowerPoint and says he likes communicating through computers. "But I would never dream of replacing my face-to-face relationships with those I have online," he says. "And I am hesitant to replace my traditional classroom contact with students."
The 400-page book, with a cover price of $95, is published by Greenwood as part of its Educators' Reference Collection.
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