/ Money, Technology

Uni: would you swap in your campus for a computer?

online degrees

A lot of accredited university courses already exist online, but in the future full degrees may even be offered. So what are your thoughts on digital degrees?

At uni, I usually attended on campus, but one course was open to distance learning students as well. This meant everyone who enrolled on that course attended in the same online format. I was curious, but sceptical…

Online university degrees

As it continued, I became disillusioned. The online forums didn’t generate chat to rival a classroom discussion. It functioned as a tick-the-box requirement for students needing to jot down a sentence to gain participation points.

In the end, I felt like I didn’t learn anything more than I could’ve by just reading a book. I felt frustrated by the limited and disconnected format, like I was being charged to go through the motions.

To be fair, my course didn’t include webcam participation. Maybe I’d have felt more invested if there was more real-time digital interaction.

Digital degrees

So if uni moved away from being on campus to going solely digital, what would we lose? It’s harder to feel engaged when you don’t have to get out of your PJs or out of bed. The feeling of community from study groups at the library or a night out at the union might be lost. We might become even more antisocial stuck behind our screens.

But uni education may also become more affordable and accessible. More mature students may feel encouraged to attend without feeling like they’re out of place. People with odd work hours might find it easier fit in.

If there wasn’t a stigma attached to an online degree, would it matter how we got it? Maybe we will see a shift in university as we know it?

Would you consider taking an online degree?

I’m not interested in taking a degree (48%, 63 Votes)

Yes, I think they’re a good idea (35%, 46 Votes)

No, I’d prefer campus study (17%, 22 Votes)

Total Voters: 131

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” So if uni moved away from being on campus to going solely digital, what would we lose? It’s harder to feel engaged when you don’t have to get out of your PJs or out of bed. The feeling of community from study groups at the library or a night out at the union might be lost. We might become even more antisocial stuck behind our screens.”

I found this a mite difficult to swallow.
1. Students already exist in a community
2. Even more anti-social? Being too gregarious seems to be most students problem.
3. ” Harder to feel engaged” That is entirely within your own control. Something necessary when growing to adulthood.

It may be better for society if in fact Universities did become on-line and were used by adults who could relate to real life experience and what is being taught. Other than that they seem, in some cases, to being some expensive further education to load people with debt before they come on to the job market.

Online education is great for those who have no option, either on cost or practicality grounds, and I’m sure for accumulation information and technique they can work well. I assume however they require a good deal of self discipline to work properly.

Campus-based education does impose a discipline, although more relaxed than school, that requires you to stand on your own feet, socially, financially and in attitude to your advancement. It also gives something isolated education cannot, the direct and spontaneous interaction with other people, their views and contributions. A place for both but in my view there is no substitute for “collective” education, not least because learning to interact and mix with other people is an invaluable preparation for a working life.

I wonder how different these Convos would be if we all sat round a table to discuss issues instead of sitting behind our computers?

Many students are effectively studying part time because they are doing paid work during the semester. Their parents may not be aware of this. This has increased greatly since I was a student in the early 70s, when most did little paid work outside the vacations. The introduction of tuition fees has certainly been a driver, but the amount of time available for working with other students (arguable the raison d’être for traditional courses) has been gradually declining over the years. It’s not all bad because doing work greatly improves maturity and interpersonal skills. Even with conventional degrees, universities are making increasing use of web-based systems to support and enhance traditional learning and teaching. I am glad that I had the opportunity to attend university when many students spent a lot of time on campus and also to have had the opportunity to introduce modern methods into my teaching, without significantly decreasing the number of ‘contact hours’, and using computers certainly helped engage with most students.

In my view, the biggest mistake has been to encourage a substantial proportion of school leavers to go to university and to make them pay tuition fees, acclimatising them to living in debt from a young age. I believe that tuition fees should be funded from taxation – as in Scotland – but places awarded to those who have the necessary motivation and ability to benefit from higher education. There are various alternatives to old fashioned entrance exams.

The Open University has survived and is respected and I have no doubt that ‘digital courses’ will make a significant impact. Anyone who would like a taste of online learning can enrol on a short FutureLearn course: https://www.futurelearn.com
I have not done one yet, but have friends who find them more rewarding than sitting in front of the TV.

It was said that education should be “open and free for all”. We’ve scrapped the latter (with students paying outrageous amounts to get them through), so it’s doubly important that we try to maintain the former. People are thinking of ‘students’ in quite black and white terms here – you’re either an 18 year old leaving college or sixth form, or a mature student in your 50s wanting to do something completely different in later life. What about the single mother or father, or the parent of a child with a disability, for instance, who wants to progress in life, who has ambition and wants to succeed (like we’re always told to do)? What about those people out there with a disability who have no alternative but to access education at home? Aren’t they all entitled to some flexibility in the way they learn? University should be flexible to suit individual needs – we are paying a LOT for it after all, and so it should work for us!

I think it’s naive and quite close-minded to think that online courses will attract the laziest in society. It might well be a way to get a degree, but marking criteria, rigorous examinations and testing, and progress reports will still be necessary. It’s hardly an easier ride. In any case, your university experience and your degree is only what you make of it. I guess if you are lazy, you’re doomed to fail either way, regardless of whether you’ve completed your degree online or on campus.

A great deal depends on what is being studied. It’s pretty tricky doing Veterinary Science online, for instance (getting a horse through the letterbox might present the odd problem) while Sociology, Mathematics, History and some others positively lend themselves to that form of study. The OU (started, let’s not forget, by the very same person who started Which?) has proved immensely successful, but has dropped its once compulsory Summer Schools, which many students found invaluable.

Online courses have many advantages: independent study, control over when information is gained, a more precise and deliberated form of tutorial than some University Lectures and the facility to hold down full-time jobs whilst studying. But there are significant disadvantages, perhaps the most telling of which is lack of peer support closely followed by lack of instant feedback.

That last is important to many students, since the younger ones (especially the extremely bright) often lack confidence in their abilities and the thrust and parry of verbal interchange during debates on Sartre, or the leap to an unexpected conclusion in Chemistry, for instance, can greatly help younger students when they’re finding their feet.

But we’re all social animals, and although we might not choose to believe so, what our peers say and do, matters. The campus experience is not for everyone, and few Universities offer it throughout the entire degree length. Nonetheless, one huge mistake made by successive Governments has been to assume they had even the remotest idea of what constitutes Education. All too often it was assumed (fuelled by the egregious DFM) that Education was merely imparting facts, and frequently useless facts. But Education is not about learning facts. It’s about so much more than that.

It’s about learning how to learn. It’s about learning to question everything you’re told. It’s about learning how to distinguish what’s relevant from what’s redundant. In short, the first degree course you take is all about learning what you should study when you go forwards. Sadly, too many, poorly advised by schools, parents, teachers and the government or terrified by the level of impending debt see the first degree as an end in itself.

We need a society where people are trained in many specialist disciplines – true, but above all we need a society full of those who understand how to learn and how to separate the welter of biased, agenda-ridden rubbish most newspapers produce from the very few high-quality pieces that stand like islands of perception and sanity in a sea of sewage. I don’t think that can ever be achieved simply through online studying. That which insulates the student from reality will also hinder their perceptual development, and that, in the long run, can only be bad for society.

The Lunar Society, and many other similar clubs , and people one would meet at evening classes all provided for intelligent people and students the chance to explore and discuss ideas. I know in certain towns there do exist serious discussion groups who have a wide variety of inputs from visiting lecturers.

The point being is that you have to make the effort to find them amongst the barrage of commercials aimed at us all daily. Mixing of ages in such an environment may actually be more normal than grouping large numbers of maturing teens together where one suspects that social priorities may infringe.

Erin’s experience of US university and then a year at a Welsh university is perhaps a glossier journey than three years studying in Salford or perhaps Lincoln. There are very practical courses and there are ones which are very much theoretical and to talk about the whole spectrum as a whole is perhaps just making for confusion.

I am very conscious that student life now is a mass-market and even training for mundane but important jobs are being called University courses. Arguably what we have seen is the politicians abuse of the term “university” to meet some target. I think it was much more honest when colleges actually were specific about what they trained people for. It only remains for all secondary schools to be called Universities and we will have achieved the nirvana of a fully university trained work force.

That they are over-trained for what jobs are available and in debt is but a minor matter. That of course they bear the stigma of a university training, debts, and a crappy job which they could have started three years earlier must really irritate the sensibilities.

I went to evening classes and studied whilst I worked full-time. I think it is an excellent system and I have a nephew who was sponsored on an engineering course . Making university a default career path is a mistake.
More selection, less places, and tougher courses for those going straight from school. More generous help and training venues in the community so those with the desire can get on with learning.

“I do think it would be interesting to see just how the Convo community might approach discussions differently in person versus via computers.” Erin

Regarding meeting fellow posters I would be delighted as there are intelligent posters making some excellent points. I have no doubt that perhaps more practical actions would result rather than a talking shop from which Which? decides may or may not lead to some action.

I would hugely welcome any meetings. Very possibly uniquely I am in email contact with over one hundred members, however our major concern is the problematic governance of the charity rather than Which? content.

In the last century members did meet up and discuss things. However apart from the AGM , which is very formulaic, and to which only around 100 ordinary members go, there is nothing. There are under 7000 ordinary members left and these are the people nominally who control the direction of the charity which owns Which?.

The roughly 670,000 members associate members who vote for the fraction of Council Trustees who are not co-opted, are not contactable other than if Which? wanted to arrange it. A membership charity so unlike the National Trust where members do have a platform for action.

Which? News today:

“Top student-rated universities revealed for 2016

Read more: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2016/07/top-student-rated-universities-revealed-for-2016-448421/ – Which?

Top sporty universities Top political universities Top creative universities Top universities for nightlife Top universities for student union activities

None of these essential requirements seem as good online. I did wonder where Top educational university might have figured but maybe we aren’t bothered about the academic prowess they might offer? 🙁

I don’t think this is really an “either/or” type question.

If you can attend a course in person – then great.

But distance learning opportunities can allow you to study in parallel with other important activities, not least a “day job”.

Face to face education has its obvious merits. (I’ve just got back home from delivering three days of training in Scotland – I guess those responsible for paying for it acknowledge the value of getting the trainer and trainees into the same room.)

I like the idea of utilising technology to deliver education. It’s a great enabler for developing individual skills and knowledge and I can only see this growing as an area. MOOCs could effectively drive a try-before-you-buy model for universities – they’re certainly a useful (and free!) opportunity for prospective students to weigh up the suitability of HE for them in quite a practical way, especially when considering a whole new area of study. Interestingly universities are branching out to offer Futurelearn MOOCs about the preparation and skills actually needed for going to university. From a university’s perspective, presumably it’s a win-win in terms of being able to directly interact with and prepare its pool of potential applicants for future study (ideally at that very institution).

That said, it’s reported that the completion rates for MOOCs continue to be low – though according to a Harvard Business Review study, ‘among learners who complete courses, MOOCs do have a real impact: 72% of survey respondents reported career benefits and 61% reported educational benefits.’ https://hbr.org/2015/09/whos-benefiting-from-moocs-and-why

The notion of wholly digital degrees, like any other online versus offline interaction, will inevitably be different and involve a level of trade-off – but what you might perhaps lose from the one experience (the ‘on campus’ student life, the live peer-to-peer discussion and debate, the immediate tutor feedback), there’s a gain in other areas (widening access to learning, fostering independent study skills, a flexible education that fits around your life, the cost effectiveness etc. etc.).

In all these cases, though, there’s a strong onus on what the individual wants to get out of whatever learning experience they’re having – and, of course, what they’re willing to put in in order to achieve it…

Hi Kelly – I don’t know how many people know what a MOOC is. As you say, the completion rate is poor, but many of them are taken by older people who have time on their hands and would like to do something worthwhile. If Which? could arrange one on consumer rights, I expect there would be a few takers. 🙂

Universities put in a great deal of effort to attract potential students and give them experience of what they have to offer. Social networking makes these students better prepared to ask the right questions before and after their visits.

For ‘digital degrees’ to succeed, it will be important to have relevant online tasters available.

“If this hasn’t already been explained “A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC /muːk/) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web.[1] In addition to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive user forums to support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants (TAs). MOOCs are a recent and widely researched development in distance education[2] which were first introduced in 2008 and emerged as a popular mode of learning in 2012.[3][4]”
Thanks to Wiki.

Kelly Fenn has quoted from one of my favourite sources where you can rely on non-emotive content and sensible analysis. To take the article further:

” The critics are right that most people who start a MOOC don’t finish: just 4% of Coursera users who watch at least one course lecture go on to complete the course and receive a credential. However, given the large number of users involved, the absolute reach of MOOCs is still significant. For instance, more than one million people have completed a Coursera course since its inception in 2012, with over 2.1 million course completions as of April 2015.”

The massive number of completions despite the drop-out rate is still an achievement . If I were to criticise the article it would be the concentration on completion without recognising that very serious benefit could accrue for partially completing a course. Anyhting that gets people thinking cannot be a waste.

You’re quite right – an acronym like that really should have come with an introduction – thanks for the wiki definition, Malcolm.

And I for one would love to see a Which? Consumer Rights MOOC… 😉

The internet not only enables us to access formal education, as this Convo, but allows almost all of us simply to access immediately information we could otherwise not hope to get. certainly not without a good deal more effort. That is an education in itself. We have a lot to thank the internet for.