Submitted by ub on Tue, 07/30/2013 - 11:12

As a journalism educator I meet students who are the first in their families to attend a university. They include foreign students, who are recent immigrants and US citizens from low-income families.

I eventually require these students to speak in front of their classroom. For some, this is the first time they're before a crowd of their peers from differing socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. Their experience can be terrifying, but as a result they are later able to raise their hand and contribute to our class discussions. By the time these students graduate and walk into that first job interview, they've learned to manage fear of saying what's on your mind.

For these students who manage to overcome these odds, college is the first place where they will be asked to explain a concept, to articulate a position, or to engage in vigorous intellectual discussions. It is also likely to be the first place where they have to engage with students and professors to navigate social norms.

The problem is that more institutions for higher learning are adopting massive open online courses, consisting of recorded lectures and online assignments.

On face value, an MOOC appears to be a promising way to increase access to education for those who cannot afford a college degree. However, students end up sitting in crowded lecture hall being lectured at by a professor who doesn’t know their names, or anything about them.

Some of my students must work because they have families to support and sometimes struggle to fulfill their requirements for graduation. However, the adoption of online education by large public universities may harm the very students for whom a college education is an essential leg up.

A college education provides not only knowledge, wisdom, cognitive skills, but practical, social, emotional, and behavioral competencies. Tenacious and confident employees offer companies an edge over equally talented employees who lack these practical skills. What students cannot learn online are some of these social skills.