TechnoLibEd: Distance Learning and Liberal Education

By John Ottenhoff, published in LiberalArtsOnline, from the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College

In his article, English Professor John Ottenhoff writes about possible positive benefits the distance education revolution has had on the liberal arts. Most obviously, he writes, the phenomenon has thrown into sharp relief the virtues of a liberal education--such as reflection, integration, and connection of knowledge--contrasted with the "edu-tech forklift" of content delivery.

But Ottenhoff also believes that the distance-learning buzz "ha[s] clarified educational priorities" and "has prompted a more sincere and far-reaching discussion of how students learn more than anything else [has] in the past several decades." The openness technology has afforded the academy--such as online syllabuses and content--can only help promote the liberal education ideals of inquiry and collaboration, he argues. "If liberal arts education aims to integrate and connect, we should seriously explore how the superb linking capacity of the Web might foster our aims," he says.

The emerging technologies have forced liberal arts colleges to think harder about the promise of a well-rounded student--after all, the Web may give student "consumers" "shallow pools of knowledge about an infinite set of subjects online," but it's up to the college to show how precepts of liberal education are needed to take students further beyond this scattered research to attain wisdom and a depth of understanding of these subjects, and make students "more than consumers of information."

To access the entire article, visit

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