Online courses fail to connect with quality education

by Mike Heral

I come here not to bury online courses but to yield to them. It’s not like I have a choice now that the California State University system believes online courses are the panacea to its overcrowding problem. Apparently, Skynet isn’t content with merely enslaving humanity—it must now perform educational services, too.

Matrix-level concerns aside, online courses are more than just campus congestion-clearers. They’re also a perfect fit for today’s college-attending millennials. They’re perfect not just because millennials were practically born with a USB port for a belly button, but also because little to no effort is required to pass them. An online course, therefore, completes the intellectual devolution of one of the more derided generations in history.

Online courses are so easy to pass, the mere act of enrolling in one immediately produces an unfair advantage to any student using a seemingly ubiquitous MacBook as his or her virtual classroom instead of plunking his or her fanny into a packed-to-the-rafters lecture hall.

This unfair advantage arises from the different way tests are administered between traditional and online courses. While professors teaching traditionally occasionally allow cheat sheets during exams, the examination aid is restricted enough to require a student to still exert at least some effort at studying. And by “studying” I mean a Google Doc—the 21st century student’s version of communal farming.

In the many years of online courses I’ve taken, including one year here at San Diego State, I know online exams aren’t usually proctored. Thus, it’s more similar to the fabled, lawless Wild West than what ought to be expected from a legitimate academic institution. A college course should be crafted tough enough to make the student work to achieve a passing grade, but online courses seem to elicit the opposite response. There, a student has to go out of his or her way to fail.

Perhaps a not-so-well-kept online course secret is its exams usually involve multiple choice questions practically pulled word-for-word from the course’s textbook. The successful online student needs only to know how to open said book while also possessing a rudimentary idea of how its chapters are structured to pass the exam.

And when the text fails to provide an answer, Google can. In this role, Google is representative of the helicopter-style of parenting millennials are accustomed to having. Therefore, Google also helps alleviate homesickness in students residing on-campus. If it could only make sandwiches and microwave bacon, it would replace mom and dad once and for all.

The real beauty of Google is it reveals the Garden of Eden of Internet knowledge—Wikipedia. While professors frown on students citing the maligned web encyclopedia in essays, I trust the site to consistently cull awesome answers fit for any online exam.

Now that I’ve decided to embrace online courses, I have one message for CSU administrators: Please, please, please don’t make online exams on par with traditional exams by closing the online cheater’s paradise’s barn door. That is, don’t turn those easy exams into critical thinking exercises designed to ensnare students not putting in an honest effort for staying current in the class.

After all, we wouldn’t want to give employers what they say is missing from current college graduates—critical thinking and communication skills.

In an August and September 2012 survey of 704 employers conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media Marketplace, 53 percent found recent college graduates are lacking in those skills. In fact, the Boeing Company has gone so far as to exclude graduates from any college refusing to alter course content into meeting the company’s minimum employment needs, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

That’s a worrisome sign, considering the point of attending college is to qualify students for better paying jobs similar to what Boeing offers. But that’s a problem CSU can figure out after I graduate. In the meantime, I have more dean’s lists to make and online courses are the best way to ensure I never see a grade lower than a B ever again.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email