Monday, April 1, 2019

Beware of Online Courses

Recently, the ABA Journal published an article entitled Online Law School Courses Pass The Test.  I think you can get the gist of the article from the title.  The article stated, "And despite the stereotypes about online offerings being low-quality, Murphy says that when the courses are done well, students and professors may have a better connection than they would with in-person classes. With online learning, she adds, “you can’t hide in the back row.”

However, the article dismisses the mountain of evidence that demonstrates the problems with online courses.

My co-blogger, Jim Levy, recently discussed an article that warned of the dangers of online courses.  (here)  The article concluded:

"Online education is the fastest-growing segment of higher education and its growth is overrepresented in the for-profit sector.

  • A wide range of audiences and stakeholders—including faculty and academic leaders, employers and the general public—are skeptical about the quality and value of online education, which they view as inferior to face-to-face education.
  • Students in online education, and in particular underprepared and disadvantaged students, underperform and on average, experience poor outcomes. Gaps in educational attainment across socioeconomic groups are even larger in online than in traditional coursework.
  • Online education has failed to improve affordability, frequently costs more, and does not produce a positive return on investment.
  • Regular and substantive student-instructor interactivity is a key determinant of quality in online education; it leads to improved student satisfaction, learning, and outcomes.
  • Online students desire greater student-instructor interaction and the online education community is also calling for a stronger focus on such interactivity to address a widely recognized shortcoming of current online offerings."

Similarly, Professor Michael Simkovik recently wrote, (here) "Online education is controversial in higher education. It is even more controversial in legal education, which relies more on classroom interaction and less on lectures than most forms of higher education.  Widespread perceptions that online education is lower quality than live instruction in general—and may be particularly disadvantageous in legal education—are backed by numerous peer-reviewed empirical studies."  He continued, ""Critics of online education argue that it is lower quality, that most students learn and absorb less, and that the social dynamic of the classroom and learning from one’s peers and interacting with alumni is a critical part of education."  Finally, he declared, "'We find that the students in the virtual classes, while having better characteristics, performed significantly worse on the examinations than the live students. This difference was most pronounced for exam questions that tapped the students' ability to apply basic concepts in more sophisticated ways, and least pronounced for basic learning tasks such as knowing definitions or recognizing important concepts . . .'"

How online courses affect underprepared and minority students is of particular concern. Studies show that online courses are problematic for underprepared students.  (here)  The article stated, "Online students did substantially worse than students in the same face-to-face course: They earned lower grades, were less likely to succeed in subsequent courses, and more likely to drop out."  Another study produced similar results: "Specifically, we found that males, black students, and students with lower levels of academic preparation experienced significantly stronger negative coefficients for online learning compared with their counterparts, in terms of both course persistence and course grades.”  (here)  (see also here)

It is ironic that some law schools are moving to online instruction, when the latest educational research advocates more active learning.  In addtion, as the articles above demonstrate, minorities and unprepared students struggle the most with online learning.

(Scott Fruehwald)

 

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2019/04/beware-of-online-courses.html

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