College in a Box

September 04, 2014 / Phil Lesch

Slate Magazine
September 4th, 2014

This summer, Chad Mason signed up for online general psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This spring, Jonathan Serrano took intro to psychology online at Essex County College in Newark, New Jersey.

Though the two undergraduates were separated by more than 600 miles, enrolled in different institutions, and paying different tuitions, they were taking what amounts to the same course. That’s because the course wasn’t produced by either school. Instead, it was a sophisticated package devised by publishing giant Pearson PLC and delivered through a powerful online platform called MyPsychLab.

Both students worked their way through the same online textbook, watched the same series of videos, and took automatically graded quizzes pulled from the same question bank. All the teaching that might have taken place in a classroom was handled by the MyPsychLab software. Serrano took the course entirely online, never meeting his fellow classmates in person. He communicated by email and phone with his nominal local instructor, who offered encouragement and guidance. Mason also took the class entirely online;  he says he had no contact with his professor, save for a few mass emails reminding him when assignments were due. He took his final while on vacation in the Bahamas.

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