This article in Inside Higher Ed details some concerns raised about outsourcing courses to online providers.
One student raises a series of questions:
"If Straighter Line fails too many students or make courses too challenging, they run the risk of losing support from the schools that use their service."To me, this seems a bit like being concerned that Consumer Reports will never give a low rating to a product. Remember that the key to their business is establishing and maintaining a reputation as providing quality educational services, so pay for an A schemes are unlikely to flourish.
"How do they maintain academic honesty in an entirely virtual class?"I'm not sure, but is this really restricted to online classes?
"How do they anticipate the needs of a wide variety of students if their courses are pre-designed and generic?"This may be a concern for higher level courses, but that's not the main focus of online providers. Right now, they specialize in remedial and introductory courses, where the needs of this years students are probably very close to the needs of past students. As such, pre-designed and generic courses are the standard, whether the course in online or not. Professors who haven't changed their courses in a decade are not uncommon.
"Can anyone actually tell me (with a straight face) that virtual general education classes offer the same quality as face-to-face instruction from passionate educators on the FHSU campus?"With a completely straight face, I can say it depends on the instructor. Having been in classes where communication with the professor is next to impossible due to language issues, I would much rather have taken an online course. But an even better answer appears in today's Chronicle:
Some people will argue that the best traditional college courses are superior to any online offering, and they're often right. There is no substitute for a live teacher and student, meeting minds. But remember, that's far from the experience of the lower-division undergraduate sitting in the back row of a lecture hall. All she's getting is a live version of what iTunes University offers free, minus the ability to pause, rewind, and fast forward at a time and place of her choosing.All this is not to say that there aren't real concerns with online education - there are. But the alternative is not some picture perfect world. The alternative is largely what we have now - high drop out rates, ever increasing tuition, and crushing debt for many students, whether they graduate or not. Online education won't be a panacea, but it does hold great potential for reducing the financial burden of college.
She's also increasingly paying through the nose for the privilege.
[UPDATE] Be sure to check out the lively discussion in the comments at IHE as well.