There's a cult-like crew in Silicon Valley that thinks the days of going to "college" in a "place" are numbered—that if our country's higher education system is broken (probably), the fix lies in browsing websites (hmm). A test run in California says otherwise.
San Jose State University had a good idea: let's figure out a way to make remedial math classes more accessible to people who need them. Unfortunately, it turned to Udacity, a startup with about the same academic acumen as Airbnb. In her recent vivisection of online education, The Awl's Maria Bustillos quotes a CUNY professor who gave one of Udacity's math classes a try:
It is poorly structured; it evidences an almost complete lack of planning for the lectures...In surveying the course, some nights I personally got seriously depressed at the notion that this might be standard fare for the college lectures encountered by most students during their academic careers.
Now imagine that same depression pushed against a kid without a CUNY prof's PhD. Unsurprisingly, the San Jose Mercury News reports, "results from [San Jose State's] pilot project...showed that less than half of the group — which included high school students and college students who had failed math before — had passed the classes." That's not good at all. Most kids failed at internet school.
This shouldn't surprise anyone. Udacity (and other borderline-scammy schools like it) fancy themselves the Napsters of learning. That sounds exciting, until you remember that a lot of the stuff you found on Napster was either an incomplete song with shitty sound quality or a virus.
Online classes, whether venture-backed or branded with an esteemed university's seal, tap into the same startup delusion: more for less, whenever you want it. Instant edification. Disruption, egads. The delivery of a degree for its own sake, regardless of quality. This works for Seamless, when all you're looking for is a burrito, but as a replacement for sitting in a chair and just paying attention? We're very much still in the Napster days, and that shouldn't be flattering.