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Online Course Expansion Receives Backlash From San Jose Professors

by Michael Higham, published
San Jose State University campus, Credit: Creative Commons

Backlash from San Jose Professors Towards Online Course Expansion

San Jose State University (SJSU) has been a leading campus in California with regards to online course expansion. It will be expanding its partnerships with Udacity and edX, private online education companies, in the near future. However, some SJSU professors are adamantly opposing the move towards online education.

SJSU's Department of Philosophy sent an open letter to Dr. Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor who will teach an online-blended philosophy course for SJSU by edX. The philosophy course is titled "Justice" and SJSU professors made this a topic of their statement:

"We believe that long-term financial considerations motivate the call for massively open online courses (MOOCs) at public universities such as ours. Unfortunately, the move to MOOCs comes at great peril to our university. We regard such courses as a serious compromise of quality of education and, ironically for a social justice course, a case of social injustice"

In a New York Times piece, SJSU Provost Ellen Junn stated the online-blended courses were made available on a voluntary basis. The philosophy department stated otherwise, saying that it was pressured to use the course.

Dr. Sandel issued a response to the letter, raising the level of discourse and understanding between the two parties. He explained that he believes online classes shouldn't replace human interaction. In the SJSU situation, he said the entrance of his class into the Philosophy Department was a conversation between the school and edX.

Dr. Sandel concluded his response:

"The worry that the widespread use of online courses will damage departments in public universities facing budgetary pressures is a legitimate concern that deserves serious debate, at edX and throughout higher education. The last thing I want is for my online lectures to be used to undermine faculty colleagues at other institutions."

In a fitting, philosophical fashion, the SJSU professors also delved into what makes high quality education. The letter discusses how technology can improve quality outside of online classes and how this affects students:

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