Online Learning and Civic Engagement Do Not Mix

This is the opinion of a community college dean who writes a regular blog at Inside Higher Education.  He raises a very good point:  “Colleges are being pushed to increase ‘service learning’ and ‘civic engagement’ initiatives at the exact same time that they are being pressured to move online.  These don’t have to be opposed, necessarily, but in practice they generally are.”

Here is a taste:

Service learning and civic engagement projects — I’ll float between the terms, though they aren’t identical — are high-touch. They’re labor-intensive, and they require close community connections.  In fact, their labor intensity and rootedness in place seem to be keys to their success. To the extent that they tend to pay off in improved rates of retention and graduation, that seems to be tied to a sense of belonging to a community.

Online instruction and service provision are built specifically to make place (and, to some extent, time) irrelevant. Good online teaching is labor-intensive, to be sure — some of its major boosters, and major bashers, don’t know that — but it’s still based on the assumption that students can be anywhere, including in their homes logging in after the kids are in bed.

The former is about doubling down on place. The latter is about escaping it.

As I said before at this blog–the day I am forced to teach all my courses online will probably be the day I leave academia. 

Is there anybody alive out there?

One thought on “Online Learning and Civic Engagement Do Not Mix

  1. I understand something is missing when you teach online. I think a lot of this depends on what a student is looking for and how much they are willing and able to pay for it. Online edu offers convenience. For those who need degrees to move ahead — the folks who really see college in dollar and cents investment terms — online edu not only has value, but that value will increase as technology does (along Moore's Law lines).

    If you view college more as a “consumption” good, complete with all the special moments, yeah, face-2-face offers something online cannot. But not everyone can afford to view college this way, especially given how college costs have increased.

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