Wisconsin’s Johnson Calls for Remote College Lectures

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has called for higher education classroom instructors to step down and allow videos to be used to teach college and university students instead. University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Clif Conrad says Johnson’s words sound like corporate wisdom that applauds “efficiency in education at the cost of effectiveness.”

Pat Schneider, writing for The Capital Times, says that Conrad found the senator’s way of thinking “troubling.” But Johnson responded by explaining that the “higher education cartel” was increasing prices and blocking reforms that could make college more cost-efficient, such as using the internet to broadcast lectures from “one solid lecturer.”

“If you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns’ Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done?” Johnson asked at a luncheon forum hosted by WisPolitics.

Conrad, a professor in the School of Education, said he had met Ken Burns, and he appreciates Burns’ scholarship, but he added that watching a video should be a supportive technique not a replacement for having a professor in the classroom.

As for Ken Burns, he tweeted his view on the controversy:

“I’m here to support teachers, not replace them.”

It is, Conrad continued, the spirited dialogue between student and faculty that builds higher-order thinking skills and enhances the art of expressing oneself. Last month, Conrad was named faculty director of UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.

Many people have said it is a habit of incompetent teachers to play videos for their classes regularly instead of lecturing and lending oversight to pupils’ classwork, activities, and projects.

ThinkProgress’ Casey Quinlan writes that Johnson seems unaware that some students are at a disadvantage when they are not able to have personal interactions with their professors. Columbia University’s Community College Research Center produced nine pieces of research that found students enrolled in internet classes were more likely to withdraw or fail the course.

College pupils did do better if the online course was a hybrid of traditional classes and online learning. There is also the benefit of having professors from varied economic backgrounds, sexual preferences, genders, races, and ethnicities who bring different thought processes and approaches to the classroom.

Johnson is currently in a heated re-election battle with Democratic challenger Russ Feingold. Johnson took Feingold’s seat in 2010, which ended Feingold’s 18-year tenure in the chamber.

Feingold is fighting to find a way to allow students to refinance their college loans and to preserve Pell Grants for disadvantaged young people, according to Scott Bauer of the Associated Press. Johnson says the government has made student debt difficulties worse by financing loans and enticing college students into increased college debt.

Johnson, in a bipartisan move, did support the extension of the Perkins loan program, which provides low-interest loans to low-income students. But as Feingold shares in his statewide television ad campaign, in 2015, Johnson said young people do not understand finance, and some students see the high-interest loans as “free money.”

Johnson campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger said. “Ron is working to make college affordable and accessible for everyone, which is why he supported the Perkins loan program and voted twice for legislation to stabilize and lower interest rates.”

White House figures reveal the student debt for approximately 815,000 members of Wisconsin’s population totals $19.3 billion.