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A few years ago, while I was still sitting in Carleton's Senate, we managed to pry figures out of the University's fingers which revealed that the drop-out and failure rate of their "faster, cheaper, better" online courses were spectacularly higher than for in-the-flesh courses. Apparently, the figures only get worse as you scale up.

What is not frequently mentioned in the praise of online courses is the completion rate. CS50x Introduction to Computer Science I, Harvard’s largest online course, had an enrollment of 150,349 students. Of those 150,349 students, only 1388 of them completed the course. That is a completion rate of 0.9 per cent. If my courses had a completion rate of 0.9 per cent, I would have been fired long ago –- and justly so. Fortunately, the completion rates for my courses are well higher than that, often above 90 per cent. And almost 100 per cent of the students who took the on-campus version of Harvard’s computer course finished it.

We – those of us who spend time in the classroom teaching undergraduates – know what works and what does not work. We know that, regardless of technological novelties, the larger the class is, the less the student is engaged in the material. We know that the less the student is engaged in the material, the less they will learn and the poorer they will perform. We know that smaller classes, taught by eager professors, who are able to challenge students and treat them as “thinkers” and not merely as “clients” or “users” will ultimately produce the best results.

Who teaches university students? Contract teachers - The Globe and Mail

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