Thoughts from Jan:
As a foreign language teacher in higher education, I try to continuously also teach about communication in (I like to think) a professionally relevant context. My courses typically consist of 30-40 students, comprise 5 ECTS and, due to cuts in funding affecting resourcing, I have had to limit the number of classes to 9-10 x 2h, which means the students should be working for about 110h with other course-related content.Considering the limited class time I can include, and the number of students that go through my courses yearly, I really prefer to have at least some face-to-face encounters with them to meeting them even more seldom or not at all. Already as it is, I have little or no chance of learning to know my students, and that in my opinion really is an essential part of any educational context. To become familiar with your students is even more challenging in an online setting. Regrettably, these views don’t really seem to be shared in the current trend of higher education pedagogy, where online learning is glorified. Admittedly, there are several factors involved in this, cuts in funding and resourcing not being the least. Regrettably, online learning often seems to be considered to require less resourcing than classroom teaching (i.e. you can do more with less). It seems to me that in actuality the opposite is true; running a relevant and high-quality online course actually requires more teacher (and other) resources than face-to-face education does.
Competition between educational institutions is another factor that plays in. We look at the plate of web-based education on offer; we compare ourselves with others, and conclude that since they offer distance-learning programmes, in order to compete we also must do so. I would argue that we before long will be able to turn things around, and actually present a curriculum where students actually get to attend face-to-face provides added value and becomes a marketing point. Nevertheless, online learning can provide excellent tools when it comes to diversifying the course content and activities students engage in outside the classroom. There is much that can be useful and provide added value in an educational context, but it should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.