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Thomas P. Dunn and Manfred F. Meine, Troy University
By the change of the millennium, the Internet had clearly evolved to be the new revolution in educational delivery. Online learning at the post-secondary level has come of age. A 2008 Sloan Consortium report on the state of online education in the United States revealed some startling information. For example, at the turn of this century approximately 10 percent of post-secondary enrollments at degree-granting institutions were in online courses or programs; but, by 2007, the number had grown to over 20 percent. This growth translated into an average annual increase of nearly 20 percent at a time when overall enrollment growth in higher education averaged only around 2 percent. Schools recognized that students were voting with the click of a mouse, and, by 2007, the percentage of schools defining online education as critical to their long-term strategy had grown to more than 70 percent of public institutions and more than 53 percent of private colleges and universities. Online courses and programs are now offered by universities large and small, including many of the nation’s most prestigious schools.
Another major change in higher education has been the growth of competition. The limitations of geographical location have largely been erased via the Internet. Competition for students in online courses as well as the proliferation of online offerings has been especially intense among schools providing educational opportunities for enlisted members of the military. Due to their deployment challenges, the military relies on online programs, which are used to support military recruiting and retention and to provide crucial professional development for service members.
Schools throughout the nation have looked to this evolving technological medium as a solution to education delivery challenges and as a way to expand existing education markets. The focus on technology and its inherent flexibility has evolved to the point where some schools offer courses to be completed on handheld personal digital devices. Despite this rush to distance learning, the medium and its accompanying technologies have evoked mixed reactions among students, administrators and faculty.
It is clear, that regardless of the reactions to online distance learning as a delivery system, its use is expanding at an extraordinary pace.
As Internet-based education has transitioned from its initial status as "the classroom of the future" to a pedagogical mainstay, it has been subjected to significant scrutiny by its proponents and detractors alike. Unlike its most prominent predecessors in distance education (e.g., telecourses and correspondence courses) the pervasiveness and visibility of online instruction has served to magnify its strengths (e.g., the benefits that accrue to an asynchronous format) and weaknesses (e.g., maintaining academic/ethical integrity, especially in online testing).
For the delivery of academic information online to have become not only a viable, but highly regarded and widely utilized pedagogy, the technology had to be affordable, efficient, and user-friendly for all stakeholders. As a result, and by necessity, the initial concerns were focused on the efficacy of such entrepreneurial systems as WebCT and Blackboard. Once the majority of those concerns were resolved, numerous ethical and academic issues emerged.
Having been actively involved for 15 years with the proliferation of Internet-based, post-secondary instruction, as both online instructors and administrators responsible for development and supervision of online courses and programs, it is our opinion that several important ethical/academic issues need to be addressed. Those issues include:
Below are our suggestions for actions the discipline should take to help resolve these issues:
Allen, Elaine and Seaman, Jeff. 2008. Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008. Needham, MA, Sloan Consortium.Back to Top of Page