Cheating, Continuing Education, Domestic, For-Profit, Publishers, Required, Students - Written by on Friday, September 9, 2011 7:00 - 0 Comments

NYT Education Writer Tamar Lewin Tries Out Straighterline Classes

LSE Library via Flickr under Creative Commons


New York Times education writer Tamar Lewin has written some good stories lately about online education. In this piece from Aug. 25, 2011: A Short-Lived Test, Even With Coaching, she tries out some online classes for Math and English via Straighterline. We appreciate journalists testing and writing about these online classes and online colleges. It’s another way to bring description, critique and transparency to the industry. Here’s a few paragraphs from Lewin’s piece:

To explore the world of online college classes, I had signed up for Business Statistics and English Composition 2 at Straighterline, for $177 for a month. The courses, based on McGraw-Hill textbooks, come with 10 free hours of online tutoring. I did not go so far as to buy the textbook or, for that matter, do any of the problem sets. I just wanted to see what it felt like to sit there, at the computer in my kitchen, and try to plow through it.

The statistics class started with easy material: averages, means, medians. Each topic was presented on the screen, and taught at the same time by a blandly pleasant male voice. Each topic also had textbook assignments. Then there were quizzes that generally allowed two hours to answer 10 multiple-choice questions. That would have been long enough to go back and learn the whole chapter. Or to call my daughter and get the answers. (The F.A.Q. section did warn against getting the answers, midtest, from the online tutors. )

I skimmed along reasonably well for a few chapters. I was interested to learn about the existence of the Pearson coefficient of skewness. I appreciated the hokey puns, and the bland voice saying that while it may sound like Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” skewness is in fact a useful mathematical concept. I had no interest, though, in learning to compute it — or even how to do it on Excel. So while I could pass vocabulary quizzes — I understood “skewness” — I was left to guess when questions required computation.

She goes on to describe the literature class she took in fun detail. But she concludes on a sober note:

But the month was nearly over and I didn’t need the credit — so like millions of other online students, I dropped out.

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