If you browse through some of the older entries in this blog, you’ll notice I did some teaching at an online university called ‘Robert Welch University’. I put a lot of effort into the place, developing simulatings in Second Life, exploring wikis for collaborative class-text writing, student blogging instead of essays… one post on this blog about RWU, ‘moodle + wordpress = online university‘, still ranks in my top five posts! That’s an awful lot of traffic, an indication that the interest was certainly there in what we were trying to do. It is sad then that the direction of the university has put everything on indefinite hold. As Buddy Wasisname used to say, ‘the arse is gone out of ‘er, boys’. I knew this was coming down the pipe (I left RWU a few months ago), but still, it was sad to see today a place holder website where once there was an active little community.
On the other hand, it was pretty damned cool that a group of people could sit down and say, “Right. We need an online system for teaching the classical civilizations to people who can’t afford or are otherwise unable to attend a bricks-and-mortar school” – and they did it. For nearly three years they made it go. That’s about the average lifespan for most startups.
The system we used was great, and the content of the different courses (there were over forty on offer at its height, Plato to Nato) was superb (but I would say that, wouldn’t I). I think the main mistake we made was in the marketing. It wasn’t until about February this year that the numbers started to really come together, which was about a year too late. Lesson learned: a product can’t sell itself – you’ve got to get out there and hustle, be it chickpeas or Cicero you’re flogging.
Ah well. I know some people who’ll be itching to say, ‘I told you so’ for bothering with an online institution – but really, whether RWU or somebody else, more and more teaching is going to be delivered this way. I count myself lucky and honoured to have had the opportunity.