The Digital Revolution and Higher Education
The number of college courses available online has steadily grown since the advent of “Web 2.0” interactive technologies in the early 2000s, and in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008. Nearly half (46%) of all college students graduating in 2001 or later have taken at least one online course, and the number of online courses is expected to continue to grow over the next decade.
A 2011 report by the Pew Internet and American Life project, “The Digital Revolution and Higher Education” (PDF), analyzes data collected from a survey of 2,412 American adults (ages 18 and older) and a survey of 1,055 two-year and four-year public, private and for-profit college university presidents in spring 2011.
The report’s findings include:
- 60% of respondents in the general public survey do not believe that a class taught online offers the same educational value as the same class taught offline, while 30% declared that online classes are comparable to classroom-based instruction. The age of the respondent had little bearing on his or her opinion: “In spite of the fact that they have grown up in a digital world, young adults are as skeptical about online learning as are their older counterparts.”
- College presidents, conversely, generally express more positive assessments of online learning, with 51% stating that online classes are as effective as classroom-based instruction. Presidents who believe that the goal of higher education is to prepare students for the workforce are more likely to advocate for online learning (59%) than those who believe that the goal of higher education is to stimulate intellectual and personal growth (43%).
- Online learning is less prevalent among four-year liberal arts institutions, and more popular at two-year, public and for-profit colleges. 91% of two-year colleges, 89% of public four-year colleges and 71% of for-profit colleges offer courses online, while 60% of private four-year colleges provide similar online offerings.
- Certain populations enroll in online courses with greater frequency. “Black and Hispanic college graduates are more likely than whites to have taken a class online (35% vs. 21%).” 36% of college students 30 or older reported taking online courses, versus 17% of students who completed college when they were 21 or 22 years old.
The authors also address ongoing debates over the role of student-owned, Internet-enabled digital technologies in the higher education classroom, the migration of textbooks to online content, and the correlation between digital technologies and a recorded rise in student plagiarism over the past decade.
Tags: technology, higher education
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the study "The Digital Revolution and Higher Education" (PDF).
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related Chronicle of Higher Education article "College Presidents Are Bullish on Online Education but Face a Skeptical Public."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.