Saturday, March 28, 2009

Online learning prevents on-campus assaults

Everyday you hear about some horror being perpetuated on a university or college campus. Rape, murder, assaults of all types, people intimidated and scared spit-less to make that long trip across the quad to the your next night class. It is a natural pressure point for every psychotic kook with a weapon. Herding that many of societies finest into one place makes a fantastic hunting ground for human predators.

These guys get off on the extra weird sense of power they have over people, institutions and society. They get a big kick out of tweaking the absurd theatre that that passes for security. They also may realize that a crime committed in the specialized jurisdiction of a university campus is more likely to get swept under the carpet and finally ignored, often with the victims being blamed in a hundred disingenuous ways.

Campus administrators have gone to extraordinary lengths to deal with this issue. They have created policies, and then policies on their policies. They have supported research into violence against women and minorities on campus and generally blame society itself for poor socialization techniques. They studied the campus sports teams, hazing practices and implicit messages that get transmitted through fraternities and the myriad of anti-social institutions that are taken for granted on campus.They spend oodles of time and effort to promote the control of guns in society. They talk and talk and talk about sensitizing men to gender issues. One other tactic that some administrators have used to reduce the impression that campuses are risky places is to lie about the incidents of sexual assault.

All the while they carefully ignore the one technique that might actually work. Computer and Internet mediated online learning is proving to be a viable alternative to the old institutional model of higher ed. Internet applications have become cheaper, more sophisticated and better than the old way. You don't have to trudge across town, find a parking spot, find the lecture theatre, look for a chair furthest away from the person coughing with her mouth wide open spewing every imaginable germ. All this for 50 minutes of some guy reading his powerpoint and passing out mountains of useless handouts. 60 minutes to get there, 50 minutes of lecture, 60 minutes home. The supposed collegiality of face to face learning is a carefully tended illusion. Some times you get to campus and the lecture theatre is full and you get to sit in overflow parking watching the lecture on CCTV. Could have had a V-8. At home.

Nope, to study online, you boot up your computer in the quiet of your home office after the kids have gone to bed. Look at the course outline and all the course materials on the wiki, watch the recorded video lectures of podcasts, pause it rewind it, fast-forward it, chat in an online IM system where your questions are considered and answered by faculty, TA and fellow students. That two hours you spend in transit for an on-campus course is spent much more comfortably in the company of spouse and family or even working on course assignments. When YOU feel you are done for the night you shut down the computer and carry on.

I've been looking for evidence that people have put this together. Online learning is hugely safer than on-campus learning. Why don't the local University Women's Centers promote online learning for this purpose and demand that more programs and courses be offered this way. There is enough baseline data that suggests that on-campus assault is a significant problem and that the large expenditures dedicated to the current methods for ameliorating the problem are money in the wind.

Maybe it's because everybody is still stuck in the factory model of learning.

I know that my research methodology for this post was pretty basic. Mostly a google search and the perusal of a number of University and College web sites.

The only two treatments of anything remotely related to this issue discussed Online learning for the empowerment of women and the use of online learning for Islamic women who observe purdah.

Moore, M. G., & Anderson, W. G. (2003). Handbook of Distance Education (1st ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum.

Olakulein, F., & Olugbenga, D. (2006). Distance education as a women empowerment strategy in Africa. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 7(1). Retrieved March 27, 2009, from

I think one of the main reasons is that higher education is a huge industry in its present form. It has nothing to do with pedagogy, it has everything to do with the economics of status quo. It has become a bit of a sheltered workshop for faculty, administration and support staff. It is a huge economic engine for communities with everybody from the lawyer on the senate to the landlord renting suites taking a slice. It is a grand finishing school/marriage market/party venue for all the immature children of an entitled class. A good part of all this on the public dime.

Politicians, policy makers, administration are all carefully tuned to the hum of the of the industrial education machine. They refuse to fast track online learning because the main concern is bums in seats, FTEs, good union jobs and grateful voters. Looks like Women's Centers buy into the same taken-for-grantedness that real learning only happens in a face-to-face setting. They haven't figured out that an online student is still your student even though they don't regularly get the pleasure of smelling the sneakers in a huge impersonal lecture hall.

Feeling a horrible flu coming on. Going to bed satisfied that my computer friends and online classmates can't catch it from me.


Online Learning Insider said...

I fully support online learning. It definitely saves time and money. I'm sure there are benefits to staying home that include increased safety and decreased chance of infection. I am not convinced, however, that online learning is the solution to campus violence and bigotry. Responding to creeps and fiends by retreating in fear does nothing to promote the image and respect of strong, valiant and moral men. Neither does this stance give honor to the inherent value of women.

To combat campus violence, I'd rather see the strong, valiant, moral men, which are descriptors that probably cover the majority of men, rise up and take leadership roles on campus - whether by title or by example - that promote mutual respect between students, and honoring of differences such as gender, race and religion.

Online learning is a fantastic way to achieve educational goals at a fraction of the cost and time that would be spent at a traditional institution, however, I don't believe it should be used as a tool to promote social anxiety.

Interesting stuff. Thanks for posting!

Glen said...

Thanks for your considered comment Online Learning Insider.

I would like to see the type of honorable men and women that you describe as well and I believe in the essential goodness of people.

However, as a wise person said 'trust in God but tie your camel'.

I don't think that online learning should be used as a tool to promote social anxiety, there are enough agencies who make big bucks doing just that.

I see online learning having many positive effects as you mention, an added sense of security is incidental to the much larger benefits.

Hope to hear more from you.