The Chronicle’s special report on online learning

Online Learning: How Effective is the Virtual Classroom

“As online learning spreads throughout higher education, so have calls for quality control and assessment.  Accrediting groups are scrambling to keep up (Page B4), and Congress and government officials continue to scrutinize the high student-loan default rates and aggressive recruiting tactics of some for-profit, mostly online colleges (B7).

But the push for accountability isn’t coming just from outside. More colleges are looking inward, conducting their own self-examinations into what works and what doesn’t. Take foreign-language classes: So many students are enrolling that colleges are blending new online approaches with traditional instruction, resulting in missteps as well as success stories (B10).

Several community colleges, meanwhile, are using online technology to keep an eye on at-risk students and help them understand their own learning styles— maybe the time has come for an online nanny? (B14)  And the president of Western Governors University is pushing for better ways to determine what students learn online, not just how much time they spend in class (B23).

In this issue you’ll also find new strategies for teaching and doing research online (starting on Page B30), plus an account from one professor who tried teaching online but wasn’t sold. Not everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. But the head of the new, free, online University of the People wishes that more people would: He’s thinking big—real big (B24).

Finally, you’ll meet some members of the U.S. military who are taking online courses while serving in Afghanistan (B17). Apparently studying Shakespeare makes for a nice break from negotiating with enemy insurgents—and could lead to a college degree for a U.S. Army sergeant named Tausha Britton.  It takes a strong team of editors, writers, and designers to produce a special issue like this one. We hope you find it useful, and we welcome your comments.”

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