Follow the Money – “E-learning: Trends and Tools”

At one of the morning sessions of IL2009, Frank Cervone and Lori Reed spoke about technologies and trends used in e-learning.  Dr. Cervone kicked off with a few words about the stratification of education into public and private sectors, but did not follow the money.  He did present statistics that were designed to be helpful (e.g., the majority of students in North American classrooms are non-traditional), and he does think that learning ought to be interesting.  If learning could be like a game, that would be best.  After all, young people (and implicitly non-traditional students) like games.  Someone must have been watching “Jeopardy” all these years.

The coastline at Pacific Grove, California

The coastline at Pacific Grove, California

Lori Reed, who has been an online student herself but is also in charge of learning at the Public Library of Charlotte, suspected the audience needed to know that she was on the verge of issuing a piercing scream at the morning interview of Vint Cerf. Doubtless several people appreciated her restraint at the earlier session.  Her scream would have been about Vint Cerf’s comment that he wanted to expunge the word “teaching” from everyone’s vocabulary. You see, in the new, enlightened world of technology, the light transforms quite a few matters into stark contrasts that make things as simple as recognizing the difference between black and white.  Here is all the information you require, courtesy of Ms. Reed and Mr. Cerf.

  • Learning is good.
  • Teaching is evil.

I had planned to put “Learning is good” in a white font, to accentuate its goodness, but then you would not have been able to see the letters. All that work Annie Sullivan did with Helen Keller? Evil.  Aristotle?  Evil.  He was, among other things, Alexander the Great’s teacher.  Now is not the time to say more about this topic, because we want to follow the money.

Ms. Reed had a chance early on to follow the money, but declined in favor of a seasonal message (zombies are seasonal, eh?), pleading with the audience to avoid the zombification of education.  This translated into a version of Dr. Cervone’s refrain that learning ought to be fun, a game, if possible.  My guess is that Ms. Reed does wonderful things in her role at the Public Library of Charlotte, and this session simply did not bring out all of her professional qualities.  The chance for a different direction came when Ms. Reed asked the audience why e-learning became popular, and a woman at the back shouted, “Money.”

Not the answer Ms. Reed wanted.  As a good learner (not teacher), Ms. Reed had asked one of those questions that everyone dreads, the kind with only one correct answer.  Ms. Reed’s answer: 9/11.  According to Ms. Reed, e-learning surged when business people became afraid to fly to training sessions and turned to technology to link the main learner (not teacher) with other learners (not students).  The University of Phoenix might have answered differently.  Most administrators at public universities offering completely online degrees might blush when asked about their motivations for offering completely online degrees.  E-learning is a cash cow.

During the Q & A, someone wanted to know about methods to verify who the learners are at the other end of e-learning.  How do we know the person receiving the grade is the person who has submitted the work?  Perhaps because both endorsed a game-like approach to higher education, our session presenters might have unconsciously slipped into an adolescent mindset, judging by the responses to the above question.  Rather than dealing with the question itself, their inner 10-year-old took possession temporarily, and they both said what almost every e-learning office says about the problems of verifying the work of e-learners: “Well, the face-to-face instructors cannot verify who their students are either.”  What?  Who said anything about face-to-face classes?  The question was about verification of e-learning students. Remember when your 10-year-old friend Barb, who, when confronted by her parents about why she hopped into a van with older male strangers to attend a Smashing Pumpkins’ concert (in keeping with the seasonal theme), said as justification for violating her parents’ instructions: “Well, Rita’s parents let her go the concert”?  Rita is, of course, the same age as Barb, and on this line of logic, if one 10-year-old is offered a ride by older males to a Smashing Pumpkins’ concert, then all 10-year-old girls ought to be permitted to do the same. Anyone can chart the syllogism’s structural accuracy.  Unfortunately, Barb’s answer is analogous to the responses by both Dr. Cervone and Ms. Reed.  If face-to-face classes sometimes cannot verify which students are in their classes, then the people in charge of e-learning have no obligation to verify.  The irrationality and irresponsibility of that response turn out to be beside the point.  The verification that is important pertains to the word shouted by the woman at the back: money.  No university allows anyone to take an e-learning class until the university verifies payment of tuition.  The institutions of learning do not accept bogus checks, Linden dollars, IOUs, etc.  Until someone at a university is absolutely sure that the learner (not student) has paid the tuition, that learner will not be in either a face-to-face class or an e-learning class.  Verification becomes essential when money is involved. Clearly, an e-learning course can be approved by numerous people without anyone being asked to provide a methodology for assuring that the people doing the work are the ones receiving the credit.  It is about the money, not the e-learning.

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