A Pervasive Person from Porlock

David Clemens

The Regents of the University of California just voted to embrace a pilot program testing the efficacy of an online undergraduate degree.  Until now, like most research universities, UC has been leery of the online environment because of the thorny problems it poses:  questionable security, dubious academic integrity, loss of “voices around the table,” substantial and perpetual costs. Conversely, online education does seem inevitable given our technological dependence, a Beltway “college-for-all” mindset, corporate customer service business models, and ruthless competition.  "It's the future," gushed Regent Bonnie Reiss. Despite teaching online for years and running an online program, I remain ambivalent about the marriage of technology and education.  Showing INXS’s “Devil Inside” to spice up “Young Goodman Brown” used to be stimulating; now it’s just disruptive.  Why jerk students back to the terrain they already inhabit, filled with insistent, continuous, cognitive shifts whose interruptions prevent learning?  Handling electronic information, Nicholas Carr says,

We become mere signal processing units, quickly shepherding disjointed bits of information into and then out of short-term memory.

As one online student just posted, “During the time it took me to read for this assignment, I received 1 phone call, 6 emails, 4 text messages and 1 Skype message.” At the Young Rhetoricians’ Conference in June, the most instructive point about online education was made by Porsche, a young African-American college student, who said, “I don’t want to study organic chemistry on my computer.  My computer is where I go to have fun.” The UC Regents would do well to heed her words because Porsche really is the future.

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