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UO Economics Professor Mark Thoma on online education

In the FT, here:

Is online education the solution to widening inequality, rapidly rising costs, and lack of access to high quality courses? Will it lead to the demise of traditional “brick and mortar” institutions? I was initially very skeptical about the claims being made about online education, but after teaching several of these course during the past academic year my own assessment has become much more positive.

My main worry, as expressed in a previous column, was that the availability of online courses degrees would create a two-tiered education system and exaggerate inequality instead of reducing it. I still worry about that, but I didn’t give online education enough credit for the things that it can do. Here are some of the positives and negatives of online versus traditional education gleaned from my experience teaching both types of courses.

Let me start with the negatives …

Thoma’s economics blog is here, and here’s a lecture from his undergrad econometrics course:


  1. Benjaminhansen 06/18/2015

    I don’t think online education at least in the short run will be a substitute for a traditional higher education for most. For instance, technologies like phones, email, and skype haven’t replaced our desire to visit families. If anything, these technologies can often complements.

    I think online education may help some to access education who can’t, and it can improve our instruction and students learning if we do it right.

    Just think of how it could improve the education of our international students if online lectures could be recorded so they can watch it again, perhaps slow it down, or even add in substitles.

    Certainly its something the UO should be trying to be a leader in.

  2. Pou 06/18/2015

    The real story here is Prof Thoma’s continued use of EViews…

  3. Fishwrapper 06/18/2015

    I can’t recall: Was this shared here when it was first reported?

    Students Who Attend Class Outperform Those Online, Study Says

    “Whichever way we look at it, we are finding consistently that students are performing better in the face-to-face sections versus the online sections,” said co-author Cassandra Hart, assistant professor of education at UC Davis.

    The robust evidence from student transcripts of poorer outcomes in online formats is true across groups of students, classes and professors, according to the report.

    • Pou 06/18/2015

      The authors here try to control for selection bias by including individual fixed effects in one of their specifications, but I still worry that students are choosing online classes because they perceive them to be easier, and thus devote less time to the coursework. None of their specifications (as far as I can see) control for this, so I am still concerned that their estimates are biased upward.

      Also, I worry about external validity when they focus exclusively on community college students.

      • poster 06/18/2015

        wouldn’t want to draw you as a referee

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