In the world of higher education, not a day goes by where MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) are not in the news. They are growing at an exponential rate. They provide access to college coursework to a geographically, economically and demographically diverse segment of the population both here and abroad. They provide opportunity by bringing education into our homes at a time and a cost that is achievable for so many more people than simply those who can pursue an education at a brick and mortar campus.
Vassar College, however, has done a great job of illustrating what is missing from an entirely online degree. So much of what young people gain from a college education occurs beyond the confines of the classroom (or computer screen). Think about the students at Penn State University who work year-round to organize the world’s largest student run philanthropy, raising money for pediatric cancer, or the students from across the country who will gather at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in June for a robotics challenge sponsored by NASA. But to me, it’s the students at Vassar who illustrate the benefits of teamwork, leadership and community that cannot be taught, but only experienced.
Vassar is a college known to be supportive of the LBGT community. The Westboro Baptist Church, a group with a virulent anti-gay stance that protests at military funerals (and had threatened to protest at the funerals of the people killed in Newtown, CT) believe that these deaths are God’s way of punishing society for the sin of accepting homosexuality. Specifically, they condemn Vassar because “They promote the fag agenda…” and have announced a 45 minute protest at the Vassar campus to promote their cause.
In a speedily, well-coordinated response, Vassar students set out to raise $100 for every minute WBC is scheduled to protest. The funds received will be donated to the Trevor Project, an organization providing crises and suicide intervention to LGBT youth. As of 11:00 am on Valentine’s Day, the Vassar community has raised more than 10 times their goal. What a wonderful expression of love to counter hate,
I dare say that the students affected by this effort will remember its lessons long after they forget the formula to determine how many times a dollar bill circulates through the economy or whether they can recite the first act soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Richard III. Teamwork and community building teach lessons that will be of significant value to our future employers. So, while online education is tremendous resource, it has limitations, especially for developing, maturing young people. Online education can cut costs and provide opportunities, but it cannot replace the learning that takes place when people come together for a greater good.