Given the horrible status of most university courses, it's not surprising that they can be replaced by online courses where the student never needs to set foot on a university campus to get the same quality of education. This is not an endorsement of online courses, it's a comment on the poor quality of campus-based courses.
David B. Searls is an "independent consultant" who published an article in PLOS Computational Biology: An Online Bioinformatics Curriculum.
Searls claims that ...
Moreover, there is every indication that the instruction can be effective; the U.S. Department of Education, in an exhaustive meta-analysis of 51 published head-to-head trials, found that “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction” .The reference is Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies and it evaluates the effectiveness of online courses in K12 education in the United States. Here's the abstract ...
A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those that (a) contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition, (b) measured student learning outcomes, (c) used a rigorous research design, and (d) provided adequate information to calculate an effect size. As a result of this screening, 50 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face. Analysts noted that these blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions. This finding suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning should not be attributed to the media, per se. An unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).That's hardly a ringing endorsement of online education. Nevertheless, David Searles concludes ...
Clearly a revolution in open online learning is at hand. This is a welcome addition to a movement that also encompasses open online scientific publication, of which this journal is an example. As such, this is an appropriate forum to assess the current potential for a freely accessible online bioinformatics education.One of the recommended courses is a biology course from the MIT OpenCourseWare site. I've looked at the biochemistry, molecular biology, and evolution courses on this site and I judge them to be far below the standard that I think is suitable for university students. Here's part of the recommended course: Biochemical Reactions, Enzymes, and ATP.
Both the completeness and the quality of such an unconventional education should be evaluated. Such judgments cannot be entirely objective, and even curricula in conventional university settings vary widely. Thus, this must ultimately be considered an “opinion piece.” Even its purely factual content has to be viewed as evanescent, given the rate of change in online education, and the fact that newly announced initiatives may increase the selection and quality of courses available to a considerable extent even within the year.
Even so, the first opinion offered here is that it is probably already possible for a motivated student to become a competent, employable bioinformatics professional in the comfort of his or her own home—with certain important caveats to be elaborated in the discussion at the end. By way of evidence, a suggested curriculum will be laid out that is supported by existing online resources.
Everything in this 43 minute lecture can be read in a biochemistry textbook. The instructor adds nothing. Most of the topics covered in this lecture should have been covered in an introductory chemistry course. Indeed, most of it should have been covered in high school. Some of the material is wrong, or at best, misleading.
If it's possible to train a "competent, employable, bioinformatics professional" using courses like this then what that proves is that university bioinformatics programs are in terrible shape. It's easy to imagine why if the focus is on "training" potential employees rather than critical thinking and understanding.
[Hat Tip: Nick Block who sent me the links in an email message.]