Outsourced: Distance Learning and Distance Teaching

Many industries are currently dealing with the hot topic of outsourcing, but most people probably wouldn't have thought that issue would come to education anytime soon. Yet two universities, Missouri State and Florida Atlantic, are now doing just that with their introductory journalism courses. What's their reasoning, and what do the naysayers think? Schools offering Teaching & Learning degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

The Program

Since 1975, Florida's non-profit Poynter Institute has provided not-for-credit journalism education to all those who sought it. This year, their operations changed a little. In concordance with Florida Atlantic and Missouri State universities, Poynter now teaches two for-credit introductory collegiate journalism classes.

Here's how it works. Students at either university spend the bulk of their 'class time' with online lectures, group discussions and interactive assignments. However, occasionally throughout the course faculty members employed by each school meet directly with students to provide hands-on guidance and feedback. Additionally, the syllabi for the introductory classes have been generated by each of the universities. Journalism professors at both institutions therefore characterize the relationship more as a partnership than outsourcing.

distance learning online education outsourcing

Why Do It?

Usually outsourcing occurs so companies can save money. That's not really the case with these journalism classes; for both Missouri State and Florida Atlantic, the monetary return on each online course is roughly the same as it would have been for a traditional class. Instead, schools cite using Poynter's program because it makes staffing a department easier and provides a trusted name in journalism education.

Perhaps the most compelling argument these schools present for using Poynter is that it helps unify the knowledge base pupils get from an introductory journalism course. Due to different instruction styles and school branches, students would previously enter upper-level journalism classes with variable knowledge and skills. Using an online institution like Poynter allows Florida Atlantic and Missouri State to present a unified curriculum to beginning students, making it easier for later instructors to focus on their specialized fields.

Why Not?

In addition to the usual complaints regarding job loss in outsourcing, some teachers at these universities have another fear. They believe that course content generated by a third party completely circumvents traditional university processes for approving curricula. Additionally, the standard university model dictates that each school hires the instructors it thinks are best for a given job, whereas outsourcing homogenizes and dehumanizes that process, thereby tarnishing it. One faculty member at Missouri State quipped 'what makes us any different from the University of Phoenix?'

Finding Accord

Professors worried about presenting a standardized introductory curriculum may have a point. It's possible that institutions like Poynter can take the monotony out of massive 100-level classes at universities, freeing up their faculty for more specialized courses that demand a personalized touch in instruction. It's worth noting that the journalism departments at both schools are reported to be supportive of the program; it's faculty members in other departments who express concerns.

Proponents of this 'outsourcing' are also quick to point out that it's at a very experimental stage. If any program expansion happens, it will proceed slowly and with the approval of the university's faculty. Surely few, if any, want to see the entire university experience replaced by digitized instructors, but we're not at that point yet.

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