6. The Future of the Campus

6.2. The Law of Equal Substitution

In the meantime, we should start from the assumption that from a strictly pedagogical perspective, most courses can be taught equally well online or face-to-face, what I call the law of equal substitution. This means that other factors, such as cost, convenience for teachers, social networking, the skills and knowledge of the instructor, the type of students, or the context of the campus, will be stronger determinants of whether to teach a course online or on campus than the academic demands of the subject matter. These are all perfectly justifiable reasons for privileging the campus experience.

At the same time, there are likely to be some critical areas where there is a strong pedagogical rationale for students to learn in a face-to-face or hands-on context. In other words, we need to identify the exceptions to the law of equal substitution. These unique pedagogical characteristics of campus-based teaching need to be researched more carefully, or at least be more theory-based than at present, but currently, there is no powerful or convincing method or rationale to identify what the uniqueness is of the campus experience in terms of learning outcomes. The assumption appears to be that the campus experience must be better, at least for some things, because this is the way we have always done things. We need to turn the question on its head: what is the academic or pedagogical justification for the campus, when students can learn most things online?