Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Fighting Electronic Sun Devils...

Today's Sign that the United States is Doomed: Heard an advertisement today for Arizona State's online university. Ah, the final melding of the fraud of online education with a university that most recently made the news for having members of a frat drop off one of their brothers at the front door of the hospital. Not in the hospital itself but in the doorway. With a note pinned to his chest stating that he had just consumed 20 shots of tequila after competing in a shot drinking contest and hence had a BAC in the .4 range. It is nice to know that Arizona State teaches personal responsibility if not actual follow through. Oh, and why does Arizona need two online universities? We already have the University of Phoenix? Is there some weird online education synergy in the southwest?

I don't want to make it sound like I think that all online education is bad. I've started downloading podcasts of classes that interest me but I just think that taking a class online removes all of the dedication and rigor from the process. Students barely pay attention in class to begin with and now you can just play a lecture while completely ignoring the content. Just work the problems, write a paper, get a grade and earn a degree without ever really being challenged or interacting with people or ideas that are counter to your own. That is what education is about. Grade inflation makes things bad enough as it is; the watering down of degrees just makes it worse.

One of the things that concerns me about education (and to be honest, the next generation in general) is just how different it must be than from how I learned due to the internet. Understand that while I was online as a sophomore and Illinois invented the web browser we really didn't have a connected world at the time. We learned from textbooks and overhead slides and lectures with actual blackboards. For homework you would work it out personally with the concept of working together being considered cheating. To copy a paper or plagiarise actually took work. Now all you have to do is search google.

That really stuns me. I assume that any electrical engineering student could type in some of the details of a problem and find a solution online. It would make assignments simpler than ever and if I had that at my hands I would have learned nothing at all. The only way I was able to learn was by struggling with problems over and over again until finally the pieces fell into place. There were times when you would look at a problem and go "I have no idea how to get an answer so let's at least try to figure out what it is that I can figure out and then maybe, just maybe, I'll eventually see an answer." That was probably how I learned my greatest skill. That is all real life is. You don't know the answer so you figure out what you know and try to get there. Searching online will not provide you the answer.

So kids, try to turn off the computer once in a while. Grab an actual pencil. Maybe you will learn something.

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