A new attempt at making online education cool

Published: Sunday, Feb. 26 2012 7:00 a.m. MST

University students nationwide are using the platform of the internet meme to explain their college experience. Facebook is populated daily with campus inside jokes, the realities of studying finance or even class registration strategies, all of which are explained with only a photo or two and a few lines of pointed text.

Now the grownups are catching on, hoping to tap into the medium to argue the merits of online education, an explosively popular but still hotly debated learning method.

Lecturers at the University of Edinburgh are hoping to use their own meme-like document to attract more people to their cause: making online education cool.

Steve Kolowich at Inside Higher Ed reported that four faculty at the university, who teach online master's courses in "e-learning," wrote a "Manifesto for Teaching Online," which they hope will spread throughout the digital world. The document, which Kolowich called "less like a traditional academic paper than an exceptionally wordy bumper sticker," is tailored for quick Web consumption, complete with the bright colors and short phrases that often characterize internet memes.

Michael Sean Gallagher, a graduate of the U of E program, explained on his blog that the document is "part of a larger University of Edinburgh project examining online writing and assessment."

But the "Manifesto," which can be downloaded as a PDF, is also intended to briefly explain what online education means for many and counter some of the arguments against it.

"Place is differently, not less, important online," it asserts between yellow and orange asterisks. "The best online courses are born digital."

Jen Ross, associate lecturer at the university's education school, told Kolowitch, "What we'd really like to have happen with the manifesto is that people take it up and remix, rewrite and take it apart." She and her colleagues also commissioned a video with the same phrases.

Gallagher applauded the faculty's effort as a confrontation of the misinterpretations of online learning.

"As e-learners (either students or teachers), we are constantly fighting against the grain of public perception that online learning is a lesser form of learning, that physical institutions can simply extend to account for elearning, that space matters only in the physical sense," he said.

Our take? Internet memes are powerful tools to attract attention, and using online methods to promote online education is a smart marketing idea. It would be more effective, though, if they took a leaf out of the students' book and made their manifesto a little more dynamic.

As any college student will tell you, nothing sends a message like a condescending Willy Wonka.

EMAIL: lmarostica@desnews.com

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