Ask the Dean: 'Facilitators' no substitute for faculty

2010-12-06T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:38:43Z Ask the Dean: 'Facilitators' no substitute for facultyAli Malekzadeh Special To The Star Arizona Daily Star
December 06, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Question: In this age of online courses, why do we need so many expensive faculty members in colleges? Can't we save money by replacing them with "course facilitators"?

Answer: No. Faculty members are the intellectual power of our nation, and we would all lose if they were downgraded to "course facilitators."

I'm hearing from major universities that plan to have a top faculty member design their courses and low-paid "facilitators" handle them online.

Faculty members teach courses, conduct research, and serve on committees, both on campus and in national professional organizations.

Teaching in a conventional classroom is one-third to one-half of what many professors do. The rest of their time is spent on research, overseeing their labs and managing their graduate students. Without research, universities would turn into empty shells, devoid of the intellectual power our society needs to solve its most daunting problems.

Let me give you a recent example: In the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, after it became clear that the flow of oil could not be stopped quickly, BP and the federal government turned to professors from across the nation who deal with environmental disasters.

Scientists tested the water, marshes and marine life all over the Gulf. Many have spent their entire careers researching energy and the environment. Hundreds of scientists received grants to assess the environmental impact of the oil disaster, and they will continue this research for decades.

Other professors are serving the public good by conducting research on cancer, mental health, poverty, natural resources, and dozens of other important issues. These professors take the results of their research to their classrooms to benefit their students.

So while course facilitators might sound good, such a move would lead to a national loss of brainpower. Online courses sometimes can be beneficial, but they cannot replace the face-to-face interaction of teachers and students. The University of Florida has put many of its required courses online - including psychology, statistics and biology. Students who wanted to take a specific psychology course, for example, had no choice but to take it online, even though they were on campus. A statistics course had 1,650 students enrolled.

I keep wondering if online instruction is any different from sending students to the library and asking them to read all the psychology textbooks, then going to the Psychology Department and taking an exam. If they pass, the college will give them a degree.

Professors are in the classroom not only to facilitate, but to teach, to coach, to challenge, to excite, to mentor and to inspire their students. While we can simulate all of these benefits online, we cannot replace them altogether.

Ali Malekzadeh, a former administrator and faculty member at Arizona State University, is dean of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Send him your questions and stories about college at askthedean@ gmail.com Please include your name and hometown for possible publication.

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