Thursday, March 8, 2012

The downside of online education

In the 90s, the joke was “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”  The anonymity of online interaction allowed you to reinvent yourself.

One aspect of offering the online course has been to remind me that “On the Internet, nobody can confront you for being an a**hole.”

I just have to copy-and-paste (verbatim) a recent posting from a student [sic] in the online course forums, because paraphrasing just won’t do it justice:
As you don’t take care of us, the students, due the quality of the course I decide to quit this one

If you (the organizers) realize how important is our time and you decide to take this course seriously then perhaps I will return

Do you (the organizers) realize how many courses like this one are there? Do you realize how serious are them (see udacity for example) and how they care about us?

Is this the quality of the whole university? I now understand why stanford or others are more reputated than cal tech: because they take care about what they are doing but not you, you are making a fudge here and I have no time for fudges

…it goes on for awhile like this.  I don’t even know who this person is—he or she posts as “Garito” with no other information.

I’ve dealt with whiny students before, but this level of entitlement is, frankly, stunning.  Besides the fact that “Garito” provides no actual suggestions and confuses UC Berkeley with Cal Tech, what gets me is the downright nasty and ad hominem assertion:  You don’t care about what you’re doing, or about the students.

We’ve already acknowledged a number of technical glitches that have slowed things down and that we’re working to fix, but “Garito’s” statement is just injurious and insulting.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.  I volunteer at a nonprofit community theater, and for years it’s been our consistent experience that the worst customers are the ones who got free tickets.  As a group, they complain more, are more likely to cancel at the last minute or walk out of the performance, write the nastiest reviews, and rarely turn into repeat customers even when they said they loved the show.  That is, they’re more motivated by getting a ticket for free than by the product offered.  (That’s also why our theater doesn’t do deals with GroupOn and similar outfits.)

I strongly suspect that online education purveyors will reach a similar conclusion, and hopefully that’ll happen before instructors get sufficiently turned off by attitudes like these that they decide to stop donating hundreds of uncompensated extra work hours for the “Garitos” of the world.

I know it’s human nature, when you’re trying to do a good job at something, to focus disproportionately on negative feedback; very few students, even those with legitimate grievances, have been anything like “Garito” and many more have been very positive in their comments. So in this case, sorry, “Garito”, but all I can really say, to use your own terminology, is “fudge you.”

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