On-line studies as the new wave of education and how that in itself is turning the lives of those in academe upside down. I recall Tim Stephens, a senior lecturer in public international law at the University of Sydney (some years ago), said his colleagues would sometimes receive hundreds of emails and several mobile phone calls a week.
''We virtually have to be available to students around the clock,'' Dr Stephens said. Web-based learning at universities has halved student attendance rates in some courses and dramatically increased working hours for lecturers, a survey of academics by The Sun-Herald has found.
Within a few weeks of a new semester many students stop attending and do their course work on-line. Students will stay at home and skim online notes or flick through podcasts and video recordings of classes.
A third of students consider this a substitute for attendance, according to a nationwide survey of 2422 first-year students by the centre for the study of higher education at the University of Melbourne.
The survey, published in 2010 found that the number of students spending more than 20 hours on campus each week has declined from 32 per cent in 1994 to 19 per cent in 2009. Today 10 years later it is even less. The sit-coms today reflect this.
Yuko Narushima and Justin Norrie who wrote the Sydney Morning Herald article stated that The Sun-Herald canvassed the views of 12 academics from NSW universities, who suggested that in many courses up to half of students regularly skipped class - sometimes because of part-time work commitments, but often because the prevalence of online learning material gave them an excuse to make less effort.
They noted that these observations corroborate a 2008 national survey by the Australia Learning and Teaching Council, which found that only 56 per cent of 721 students who used web-based learning attended lectures often. Expressed.
One university lecturer said that on Fridays you'd look out and see just a handful of students in the lecture theatre. We had to threaten them to make them come. Online learning is very important but it's only an adjunct to lectures.
There appeared to be two different levels of on-line studies, the first as described above, where students chose to get their raw material on-line from various available sources. The second, were quite specific on-line" subjects and under-graduate course work that were set-up "on-line".
I recall some years ago listening to an ABC Education Report on the changing nature of education. That the Charles Stuart University (Wagga) Engineering was an "on-line" course where over half their students resided overseas.
This has been quite the norm for many years in a wide range of tertiary subjects including theology. It is not unusual now for Australian post graduate students in theology to be doing doctoral dissertation work through US or UK seminaries.
The problem lies, he said, where the course work is designed to be 'student attended' and they take the alternative 'on-line' route.
In the above article, Jane Mears, an associate professor of social science at the University of Western Sydney said that: ''The beauty of a lecture is that you can actually influence people, drag them in â€¦ Clearly you can't do that online.'' Mears noted that it took a full day to modify a lecture for use online and two hours to adapt a PowerPoint presentation.
Moreover, for some academics, the steady stream of emails from students who expected replies at all hours of the day was becoming overwhelming and not what they signed up for.
This is the crux of the issue at hand. I see a number of ways to resolve this issue. Academics need to establish rules and live by them. In a past era, a lecturer would give a dead line for an assignment, and that would be it, unless there were exceptional circumstances, such as a family bereavement.
Students need to abide by boundaries. They might live lives that are not dictated to by the clock, however in the real world where lecturers have to be teaching at certain times, and are required to spend time in research, they are not at students beck and call. Having said that, academe need to move with the times as we live in a very different climate of technology today.
Universities may need to employ specialised personnel in a range of subjects who can answer electronic mail or in a worse case scenario, get one of those circular answering machines that keeps getting students to press a number, around and around, around and around, around and around, until they finally give up.
Come to think of it, my utility service has one of those...
Think Theology - In Sydney alone t name but three - Moore College, Morling College and Hillsong offer on-line courses leading to various diplomas, degrees and post graduate opportunities.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html