Saint John's Magazine Winter/Spring 2014

Page 4

My Perspective Who is Salman Khan? You may not recognize the name, but I bet you know of him. Khan is the former financial analyst who started tutoring his cousins in math over the Internet, eventually moving his offerings to YouTube. In 2006, those tutorials became the educational website Khan Academy, whose mission is to use distance learning to provide “a free, world-class education for anyone anywhere.” Who would not get excited about such a profound idea? And do the possibilities of distance learning mean the death of place-based education and the institutions that provide a residential experience? At Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict, we view these technological changes as opportunities, not threats. It turns out that providing high quality learning is not quite as simple as combining a great lecturer with a fast Internet connection. A recent study found that completion rates averaged only 4 percent for individual, free, online classes. As Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford professor who founded Udacity, a leading online course provider, said recently, “I’d aspired to give people a profound education—to teach them something substantial, but the data was at odds with this idea.” In another closely watched experiment, San Jose State University offered three low-cost introductory online courses for college credit last year. The program was pronounced a “flop” after less than a quarter of the algebra students passed the class. Students in all the online courses did worse than those taking the equivalent traditional classes. These experiences indicate that, at this juncture, for all its benefits, online pedagogy does not work as well as the traditional brick-and-mortar setting for most students.


Steve Woit

Michael Hemesath ’81, President

The challenges facing online models remind us of the strengths of our residential, liberal arts experience. On our campuses we live the benefits of small-class discussions, student-faculty interactions and group work. Students and alumni alike testify to the benefits of extracurricular learning on athletic fields, in music practice rooms and in student government. None of this is to say that we will not adapt new technologies and pedagogies to make a CSB/SJU education even better. This is not your grandfather’s bachelor’s degree. While we stick to our residential mission, we will also employ new technology and pedagogies when and where appropriate. In the pages that follow, you will meet a sample of our faculty who are embracing the hard work of change to challenge their students and make their classes better through judicious use of new technology.