The Power of Many
Online institutions are familiar with the criticism that they have sacrifi ced academic quality to quantity and automation. The Asian PANdora network’s studies have determined that, in each of Bhutan, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, over half of the 3,000 students surveyed believe that they could “learn more from books than from a computer or other technologies.”1 In Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, interviews with 450 teachers, students, policy-makers, and members of the public, reveal hopes that distance education can help to solve national educational and economic problems, but doubts that it can ever be as good as face-to-face education.2 The majority of 533 teachers and students surveyed in China are similarly dubious about the value of online learning, and decline to use it even when it is available to them.3 These criticisms are polite compared with those of DE’s arch-critic, David Noble. Distance educators still smart at the attacks by Noble in a series of books and articles during the 1990s and early 2000s. The “technozealouts . . . forge ahead”, he argued, without evidence for their claims that the new media enhance educational standards or productivity, and without appreciable demand from teachers and students.4 Recalling Reid’s analysis 50 years ago of commercial operations that dispense costly though worthless academic qualifi cations (“degree mills”),5 Noble listed educational institutionssome academically credible, others less so-that in his opinion were on their way to degree and diploma mill status. “The overriding commercial intent and market orientation behind these initiatives was made explicit,” he concluded (p. 30), causing credible distance educators to howl with rage at being tarred by the same brush as diploma millers.