Your are going to read an article about developments in university education in the US. Read the text carefully and complete the tasks.

Online education is a well-established means of delivering course content to older students who cannot attend university or college because of their jobs or family commitments. However, it is increasingly being used in the United States on campuses for a simple economic reason: so many students are enrolled on a particular course that they simply cannot be accommodated in a lecture hall. For example, a freshman course on the Principles of Microeconomics at the University of Florida has some 1,500 undergraduates enrolled—and many other popular courses at the same university are also primarily offered online.

One reason for this is the cut in state funding at many public universities, and it is a growing trend at the University of Florida. For example, the percentage of credit hours earned online by resident students is expected to more than double in the next five years, from 12 to 25 percent, while at the University of Iowa some 10 percent of liberal arts graduates take at least one online course a semester.

This raises some important questions about the quantity, quality and nature of the learning that is taking place. Put crudely, is it possible to learn as much and as well from a teacher whom one never meets personally, and with classmates never encountered face-to-face?

Other questions which have come up recently in educational circles address this issue specifically. How much of learning actually takes place through interaction and discussion? Will the social skills of students have the same opportunity to develop if they stay at home and only take part online? In addition, grading and evaluation may become more difficult for professors who often value the contributions made in class by students, as they generally use these to form opinions of how well a particular person can express him or herself and get the message across to others.

Reactions from both students and academics are mixed. Some undergraduates appreciate not having to leave their dorm to attend a class—they can log on in their pyjamas if they wish. Others feel that they may have missed out on an important part of their university experience whenever a course is offered online rather than face-to-face. Moreover, some students are frustrated by the lack of feedback and participation in the online model, even when it has been set up as an interactive virtual classroom. Some students also feel that they need the support of others in order to do their best and do not work well in an isolated environment.

Professors, too, are split. Some reluctantly accept the economic arguments, while others feel that online courses are far less likely to inspire students to specialise in their subject. As they are unable to provide them with more individual attention or to truly engage the students in their particular field, they see this as a true disadvantage to offering online courses. On the other hand, at least web lessons can be recorded and replayed later, allowing students to revisit any parts of a lecture that they did not understand first time around. In addition, new learning platforms allow professors to upload additional material and links which students can access at home. This is one way to encourage more independent learning, a goal which can be considered part of the university experience today.

Given the current tough economic climate in the United States, it is likely that the move towards online delivery of course content will accelerate. Going to college for many American undergraduates may soon become a matter of taking a few isolated steps across a room, rather than across a leafy campus and into a lecture hall to meet peers and professors. And with the popularity as well as the high quality of MOOCs (massive open online courses) increasing, the trend seems to be moving more and more in the direction of making high quality education available to all those with the will to register for a course and the discipline to follow it through, even without the personal contact found in the traditional halls of learning.

Questions

  • What does the writer mean by ‘Professors, too, are split’?

For the first task, choose if the statements are true (T) or false (F), or if there is no information given (NI). For each question of the second task, choose the answer which you think fits best according to the text.

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