Why colleges like online courses
I'm putting together a graphic tribute to Leeds and Northrup, including one of their 'kits' for student lab use.
From a Central Scientific catalog,
here's a list of the equipment needed for one popular physics course in the 1920s. (Here's the Hall and Bergen book.)
Note that "each student should have his own kit" for most of the equipment.
By a quick estimate, the set for each student would be $150 in 1920 dollars, or $3000 today. If you had 20 students, that would be $60k up front. About 1/4 of these items look like they'd be partly or entirely consumed during the year. The rest would have to be maintained, with inevitable breakage from student use. (Failure = learning.)
When I was taking physics in the 1960s, we had no 'per student' equipment at all, and the labs used only a tiny fraction of the items seen in these catalogs. Some of these items would have been tremendously fun AND instructional, especially the liquid stuff.
One kit per student is ideal in many ways. First, separate carrels or stalls would make it possible to set up an experiment and leave it for several days while you work on it. STABILITY IS CRUCIAL FOR LEARNING.
Second, you maintain your 'own' equipment more carefully, even if you don't legally own it as property. Third, the usual lab hour starts with a mass attack on the equipment bins. Nobody wants to be the last, nobody wants to be stuck with the broken voltmeter or a substitute part. With 'owned' equipment and separate stalls, no rush hour.
= = = = =
It's not surprising that college administrations have cheerfully shifted to online lectures and courseware. With textbooks the student pays directly, avoiding the need for lab space and lab maintenance. Textbooks with courseware are expensive, but not dramatically
more expensive than before when you account for inflation. This Central catalog also sold textbooks, which ranged from $2 to $5 wholesale, or $40 to $100 today.
The administrators themselves now receive most of the money from taxes and tuition, after applying good old Market Efficiency to eliminate the costs of REAL skills and REAL instruction.
Later and more subtle thought: When I was working as a lab tech at KU and Penn State, I saw a lot of this old equipment set up for experimental use. It wasn't being used. It was just sitting there occupying entire rooms. Why? TERRITORY. The old equipment had been part of Prof X's lifetime project, his firmly OWNED series of grants and postdocs. Prof X was still alive and still steadfastly maintaining his territory, even though he was no longer USING his territory. Young profs Y and Z might have wanted to bring out some of the wonderful equipment and use it for class demonstrations or new projects, but Prof X controlled the budget and the territory. Related subject here.
Labels: Experiential education