Professors Resist Higher Education Innovation

Some vendors of higher education may have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to make improvements


Gavin Huang

To bone up on Spanish for an upcoming trip, I installed the Duolingo app on my phone and tablet. My son also studies Spanish online—then again, he studies everything at home through a mix of online instruction and printed materials. The lessons are good—the app lets me learn at my own pace, as does Anthony's "school," which also features a more challenging curriculum than we can find locally. The costs are reasonable: Duolingo is free, while my son's tuition is a fraction of what the average public school spends per-pupil. And never once have we encountered a trigger warning, been cautioned over inclusive language, or been asked to create a safe space at the kitchen counter where we work (which is good, because the knife I just used to make a sandwich is awfully sharp and pointy).

If innovation can make not just language studies, but fourth grade, more individualized and accessible, can't it find us a way out of the expensive marinade of crazy that colleges and universities seem to have become?

Yes it can. But some vendors of higher education may have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to make improvements.

Two points jump out at me from the recently released 2014 Survey of Online Learning, which polls officials at 2,800 colleges and universities. One is that 70.8 percent of academic leaders say that online learning is critical to their institution's long term strategy, up from 48.8 percent in 2002.

The second point is that 28 percent of chief academic officers report that faculty members "accept the 'value and legitimacy of online education,' a rate substantially the same as it was in 2003."

So college and university administrators whose institutions exist to educate—share information with students—believe it's "critical" to use the greatest system for delivering information ever devised by man, but they're getting resistance from employees who'd rather cling to the old-fashioned way.

Despite the resistance, the number of students taking at least one online course increased by 3.7 percent last year, though that's the lowest growth rate recorded since the survey began in 2003. Is the hesitation because of doubts about the quality of online education? Not really. About three-quarters of respondents consider "learning outcomes" for online education to be the same or better then those for face-to-face education.

2014 Survey of Online Learning

This squares with research which found, even before the age of conjugating "aprender" on your smart phone, that online education can be at least as good as the classroom kind.

Tellingly, those with actual experience in teaching using modern technology have a more positive opinion. The survey notes:

A consistent finding over the twelve years of these reports is the strong positive relationship of academic leaders at institutions with online offerings also holding a more favorable opinion of the learning outcomes for online education. The current results are no different–chief academic officers at institutions without distance education courses are more than twice as likely as those at institutions with such courses to report online learning outcomes are Inferior or Somewhat Inferior to those for comparable face-to-face courses.

The survey doesn't address how much colleges charge for their offerings, though it does discuss means by which online learning can reduce costs. But plenty of higher education students have discovered what my son and I know: that modern technology makes it possible, if done right, to deliver education much more cheaply than in a face-to-face setting.

That's an important point when the college bubble is very obviously a real concern. "Average published tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities increased by 19% beyond the rate of inflation over the five years from 2003-04 to 2008-09, and by another 27% between 2008-09 and 2013-14," the College Board noted, though prices have finally slowed their rise.

And for those hefty prices, we get not just the challenge of securing some kind of reasonable return on the investment, but an academic culture that is increasingly mockable. Far from environments of intellectual ferment and debate, too many traditional institutions of higher learning have become dens of groupthink where straying outside the lines in terms of thought and language can draw censure and penalty.

A majority of college professors refuse to "accept the 'value and legitimacy of online education"? Fine. Make them exhibits in the museums of intellectual fail their cozy homes are becoming.

And develop some more damned learning apps.

Note: The publishing firm Pearson is a sponsor of this survey and is accused of profiting from unethical tactics in its education deals. Then again, so are traditional law schools. And there's that whole college bubble…

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  1. Wow!! People who gain ungodly salaries and prestige by forcing young people to put themselves in hock for life don’t want to give that up in the name of educational advancement! I am, SHOCKED!!

    1. ^—- gives you more beans to count. These were effing expensive…..and they’re special like your post….so don’t loose them.

  2. So college and university administrators whose institutions exist to educate


    Oh JD, that’s funny. I know that you know that these institutions mainly exist to skim as much taxpayer-subsidized money off of young people as they can, and to then spread that money around innumerable staff and “teachers” and researchers. So of course they don’t want the model to change.

    The bursting of the higher education bubble will be painful. Of course, the government will step in just like it did for the housing bubble and will make things far worse over a longer period in the process.

    1. The purpose of schools is to employ teachers and administrators.

      The purpose of universities is to employ professors and administrators.

      These are corollaries of the principle that businesses exist to create jobs.

      1. you both left out the secondary purpose of massive capital improvement projects.

        1. …the primary purpose of which is to “create jobs”. Nobody would be pushing for capital improvement projects if they didn’t “create jobs”.

          But yes.

  3. I find this all very surprising. I need to take some time to process all this, cause it’s counter to everything I know to be true in the world.

    *picks up crack pipe*

  4. Make them exhibits in the museums of intellectual fail their cozy homes are becoming.

    Ron Bailey’s gotta figure out immortality first. Then we can preserve their knowledge, wisdom, and intrinsic value for all time.

  5. I love Duolingo, by the way. I’ve managed to resurrect my three years of high school Spanish, much of which was not truly forgotten but merely lying dormant, and am starting to move beyond it.

    1. Appreciate the recommendation. I bet this could be the ticket to resurrect my abandoned French and German, which were pretty damned good when I used them every day, but nonexistent today since I don’t.

      Duolingo…I’ll try it

      1. If you do, check it out online as well as the app. Online lets you take timed tests and work on collaborative translations of Wikipedia articles, both of which are rewarding.

        1. I have to do it online, cause – *looks around suspiciously* – I don’t have a [*whispers* – “smart phone”]

          So. I HAVE to check it online. Thanks again for the tip!

    2. I give it a second!

      My only complaint is the narrow selection. I’m resurrecting my German and would like to formalize my Spanish, but, after that, little else looks interesting.

      1. Duolingo rocks. How could you say no to that little green bird that motivates you?

      2. You know who else resurrected their German?

  6. The best way to learn Spanish for a kid is to get a minimum wage job in greater Chicago area, or anywhere in Texas or Arizona.

    1. Yep. Get a job at a restaurant. You’ll learn Espanol right quick.

    2. Restaurant industry, back of the house, anywhere in CONUS. IME.

      I headed a line with a cook who didn’t speak enough English to read the tickets, in Blackhawk,CO.

  7. “One is that 70.8 percent of academic leaders say that online learning is critical to their institution’s long term strategy, up from 48.8 percent in 2002.

    The second point is that 28 percent of chief academic officers report that faculty members “accept the ‘value and legitimacy of online education,’ a rate substantially the same as it was in 2003.”

    Shorter Translation: Enthusiasm! Except this’ll never work for my subject. But theoretically, for other subjects, yay!

  8. Throw those effers out and convert that big bitch in the first picture to apartments.

  9. I had to actually read the article to find out why “resisting educational innovation” might be considered a bad thing. I’m old enough to mourn the fact that these sorts didn’t resist educational innovation over about the last 40 years or so.

    Basic math and science and reading and spelling and history doesn’t change much but every 5 years they come up with a new 5 year plan of an educationally innovative way of improving schools to replace the old 5 year plan of an educationally innovative way of improving schools that cost more money and made the schools worse and the kids stupider.

    Here’s an innovation – how about telling the kids to learn some stuff and if they don’t learn it some old bat whacks them with a stick? That worked for centuries, didn’t it? Sure, the kids will only learn to read and write and add and subtract and not be properly educated on why the term “Western Civilization” is offensive to 812 of the 2457 categories of special people we have in this country but that’s a price I would be willing to pay.

    1. There is a difference between resisting poor innovations and resisting innovation qua innovation.

    2. Interestingly enough, many of my faculty colleagues consider the ‘online learning’ hype to be rent-seeking by online education vendors such as Blackboard. And the view that it may work for ‘your discipline, but not mine’ is indeed widespread. Particularly for language learning.

      There’s an additional wrinkle that this article doesn’t address, but is a concern at most large universities, especially those with high-flying faculty or unionized faculty, which is who owns the online course after it is created. The intellectual property issues surrounding online courses are a can of worms.

      And I’ll admit to a certain amount of skepticism myself, but I also try to keep the kids off my lawn…

      1. My daughter is a college professor – Staff at a junior college and adjunct at a university. As a computer science guy, I can tell you if I had ever produced anything as bad as “blackboard” I would have been summarily dismissed.

  10. Why would anyone expect Academia be immune to rent seeking?

  11. Turns out trolls aren’t mythical

  12. my best friend’s sister makes $61 hourly on the computer . She has been without a job for 8 months but last month her income was $15147 just working on the computer for a few hours. this page…………..


  13. how to burst a college bubble;

    fuck curriculum, fuck degrees and do the following:

    Have a private sector “testing”company design tests using people in certain fields as consultants and so on…”What skills and knowledge do you want your candidates to know” work with those people to design industry specific tests that give a QUANTITATIVE score, everyone knows now that the word “holistic” in admissions basically means “pull out of my ass/whatever the fuck I feel like”

    Then have the supremes strike down griggs vs duke power which is what got us in this clusterfuck credentialist nightmare in the first place. Many of these tests, certified by the industry, will eventually lead to stuff like GMAT and LSAT prep, no common room, no diversity outreach seminars, no saving the world, no frats no frosh NOTHING! Just sit your ass down and prep for tests.

    Check out this depressing experiment;…..eam?page=2

  14. trillion dollars in student debt, it turns out you can’t run an economy on sociology and gender studies

    1. Why not, the current administration has been doing it for years.

  15. While there is definitely an issue with LAUSD either not caring to perform some due diligence in its attempts at being an innovative school district, where is the critique of Apple, a multi-billion $ company signing on to a contract such as this? Yes, i know the capitalists will say it’s not their job to help customers save money but in an era of supposed growth of corporate social responsibility and ridiculous levels of profit – where exactly is Apple’s CSR in this? In the long run, as the write my essay service writer I believe an educated citizenry that can actually get jobs and buy expensive Apple products makes more sense than a country of unemployed, uneducated young people who can’t afford to eat let alone luxury consumer items.

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