Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Reopening Schools - A Serious Question

In-person classes will probably look much the same on the university level.  Fewer inhabitants, perhaps, in the lecture halls, but otherwise, they're probably good to go.

Virtual classes, e-learning, the on-line option - call it what you will, it's not school.  But, it may be all we have... and that's worrying me.

Not a little..... a lot.

I've taken a few summer courses from Cornell over the years; those on-campus have been mind expanding works of wonder.  This summer's virtual offerings have been quite the opposite.  They were free; I got what I paid for.

If the Ivy League can't figure it out for the summer, I fear for the students paying full freight for the semester.

Cornell uses Canvas, a central hub where syllabus and questons and tech help and discussion groups can be found.  It was not very intuitive for me, but, like my aversion to Canon cameras, that might be a personal foible.  What was not personal was the utter lack of interest shown in the discussion sections by the other 75 members of the class. A few questions were raised, but even fewer were discussed.   When the professor asked for topics to be raised in the Q&A section, no mention was made of the conversations already started in the discussins.

Add to that the fact that the professor read his slides aloud and you'll begin to get a sense of my frustration.  The fact that a trusted friend admires the teacher adds to my woes; he's probably fine in the classroom, just miserable on the small screen.

Today's webinar started off just fine.  The connection was clear, the introduction was on-time and concise, the professor was charming and funny.  Then, he, too, began to read his slides out loud.  Word for word.  Every single one of them.  And then he said "Next slide, please."  

That should have been a clue; he wasn't controlling his own multi-media presentation.  The worker bees in the main office were in charge.  So, when he could no longer hear what they were saying, the webinar devloved into hundreds of people across the globe listening in on a tech support chat.  After 5 minutes or so, I signed out.  

Read the damn questions posted in the chat function.....unless you can't find the chat function.  Sign out and sign back in.  A 25 minute mini-lecture was all you prepared?  I'd blocked out the suggested 90 minutes.

These are adults with PhD's and a host of immediately available tech helpers.... and still it went awry.  Had I paid money for these sessions, this post would have a decidely darker tone.  But as I type to you I think of the students who will be returning to Notre Dame and Cornell and Harvard next month.... and the folks who will be fotting their bills.  

True, that generation of students is more computer literate than mine on the whole, but the faculty tends more toward my side of the generational curve.  Without the immediate feedback from the faces before them, very few will have the power to hold the attention of the students at the other end of the ethernet cable. 

Today's webinarian was fascinating (I was crocheting and listening so didn't notice he was reading aloud until several slides had passed) and held my attention easily.  The Odyssey professor, however, was more engaged with his screen than with the words coming out of his mouth. 

I spend a lot of time video chatting with FlapJilly; I recognize that seeing yourself in the little box in the corner is fascinating and distracting and often more fun than what's at the other end of the connection.  But if I were a parent paying $60,000 a year for my child's education, I'd certainly expect a whole lot more.

And so, the serious question - is this the inflection point for the ever rising cost of private colleges and universities?  


  1. Maybe having their kids take a gap year and do something else for a year. My granddaughter will be making that choice also if she takes a break or pays for inferior education, which she also has claimed she saw with the digital. I worry more about the little kids than the older ones. It's so important how the small ones develop. A gap year for them would be a big deal.

    1. Finding something safe to do for a gap year is also an issue. I don't know what I'd say to a rising college freshman. FlapJilly's suposed to start 1st grade this year; distance learning is a challenge at that age.

  2. Our granddaughter is living at home and working fulltime in the veterinary clinic of her folks. I don't know what she'll decide in the fall but if the education you get is inferior, it's not a good thing.

  3. Kate would have been a junior this year if she decides to go for it. But she's been disappointed in the courses for lack of quality.

  4. I always hated it when the instructor read the hand-out or the slides. We can read. Offer something from your mind!


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