Monthly Archives: October 2015

Let’s stop casually dismissing on-line academic degree programs.

{In today’s topic, Professor Tertius steps away from the usual origins topics in order to reflect on false perceptions of what constitutes quality higher education, as well as the fact that Young Earth Creationists don’t have a monopoly on letting ideological biases overwhelm the relevant evidence.  So read at your own risk.}

As an educator (retired), I can’t help but comment on the outdated notion that there is something automatically second-rate or deficient about online education or distance-learning in general. I’m not saying that there are never advantages to more face-to-face classroom contact nor that every course and concentration lends itself equally to online education. Yet I’m concerned about the reckless disparagement that is all too common in online discussion forums.

I spent a lot of years teaching at a wide range of institutions of higher learning, both public and private, both secular and Christian, and two very large taxpayer supported universities as well as some more modest-sized institutions. And even though the subject of this blog is usually focused on origins topics, I’m very concerned that the general public has no idea what constitutes a good or poor education, and that enormous sums of public funds (i.e., taxpayer funds) are poorly expended as a result. Even though I retired before online education became fully mainstream, I support it for so many reasons.

I won’t even attempt to summarize the many advantages of online education, but I do want to emphasize one central idea: the traditional, lecture-model format of higher education is about 500 years out-of-date. While it has considerable POTENTIAL for quality education, I believe that it generally fails to meet that potential—especially at large taxpayer supported universities. The main reason we got in the habit of putting one scholar at the front of a lecture hall facing a group of students was because: (1) few books existed and students couldn’t afford them in any case, and (2) the scholar in the front of the room read aloud from the books the school was fortunate enough to own and the students wrote down what he said! Furthermore, the best scholars had good memories of books they had been fortunate enough to have read and could tell the students what was in those books.

So the entire lecture model was developed to deal with a scarce resource: books and the knowledge in them. Once books and knowledge became more generally available, the lecture model continued to have value ONLY when (1) the knowledge was so new that it hadn’t yet been published in books or easily accessed, peer-reviewed academic journals, and/or (2) the lecture itself was de-emphasized and the teacher-student interaction focused on Socratic learning, aka The Socratic Method. In reality, #1 rarely occurs except in the most advanced post-graduate courses which most students never experience and, unfortunately, #2 is the exception more often than the rule, especially at large institutions and tax-payer funded institutions.

In general, the Christian privately-funded institutions of higher learning have a broad mix of advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses—just as do large, taxpayer-funded universities. I have my share of differences with the faculty of Liberty University** (just as they have their differences with the Evangelical universities where I’ve worked) but they have many strong departments and programs there. They also have some weak programs, just as most schools do. I’ve also seen Liberty University grow tremendously in quality since its founding and the overall quality of their faculty and student body has steadily increased with that growth. (While the late Jerry Falwell, the politically-outspoken Founder of LU, had his share of outrageous rantings—and even Falwell himself eventually acknowledged some of the damage done by his political activism—judging the present-day academic programs of LU on the basis of the founder’s politics is just as irrelevant and inane as dismissing the scholarly prestige and achievements of Brigham Young University because of Brigham Young’s polygamy and considerable notoriety.)

Furthermore, an online academic program is no more automatically deficient than is a traditional, on-campus program automatically superior. And it is time that anti-Christian nay-sayers stop recklessly spewing their knee-jerk assumptions that (1) Christian universities are automatically deficient in quality and prestige of faculty PhDs and that (2) student achievement, both incoming and as graduates, is somehow and necessarily subpar. Indeed, just last week I found it necessary to point out that Patrick Henry College (famous for focusing on home-schooled students including many Quiverful Movement families) does NOT have “faculty with nothing but unaccredited doctorates from no-name schools” and does have HIGHER SAT reading-exam scores for the middle half of incoming student percentiles versus a high-ranked, world-class university like New York University. (And by the way, while I don’t actively follow the competitive debate programs of LU and PHC, to my knowledge both schools continue to have some of the very highest scoring and debate team rankings in the nation, often defeating Ivy League opponents and many other prestigious schools in both the USA and UK.)

I make these factual assertions because I care about EVIDENCE and despite the fact that I have my share of theological and ideological disagreements with Liberty University and even more with Patrick Henry College.** I am not personally familiar with the Masters in Counseling program at LU but I have no reason to assume it somehow professionally defective. (Frankly, I have had some strong reservations about some counseling programs at secular universities.)
** FOOTNOTE: Obviously but worth mentioning in the name of fairness, I also have some very substantial disagreements with the secular universities where I’ve taught. And even though I’ve never been a member of the faculties of LU and PHC, I have been invited to guest lecture at both and my published scholarship continues to appear in syllabi and the libraries. So I am not implying an uncordial relationship with either institution or its faculty. In fact, some LU professors have been my classmates and/or students.

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