Just a couple of comments in response, to make sure my original point wasn't misunderstood.
Dan mentioned that you can track failure and respond in an integrated system and that is surely important. But does this trump all the good things that happen in small classes between students who are interested and their teacher?
Definitely not. I am not arguing against small classes. In fact, philosophy (my discipline) thrives on small classes. Despite this, all courses should have a web presence, even small classes. And clearly, a presence does not mean that tracking will necessarily work for all.
At one level, I am arguing that certain subjects and disciplines, especially first/second year courses, lend themselves well to online delivery/support and tracking. These subjects can gain much from the ability to track. And, for most institutions, it is retention at the first and second year that is of paramount importance. [Though I am portraying the issue from the point of view of the institution, I like to beleive that it is a correlative relation. Retention, hopefully, will lead to a better educated student.]
But even for small classes tracking can work. One can add a discussion component which enables tracking. Discussions force students to express their thoughts in coherent sentences. This is a challenge for a lot of students; one that is worth engaging. Forcing them to interact online will get them writing. Getting them writing online will enable tracking. [Hopefully it is a correlate relation.] In fact, one issue about responding to a Moodle module, everything is tracked, much more than WebCT. I found that very interesting. [WebCT is the pits for tracking; Moodle is excellent.]
As for his comment that educational research shows that large classes are just as good as small ones, can anyone confirm this from memory?
Well, it was not a point from personal experience, it was a point from empircal research in the area. Nevertheless, if you want personal, I liked exceptionally large classes because I did not have to worry about answering a question. If I did not raise my hand in these large classes, I knew that I would not be asked a question. I liked that .
Finally, I do not believe that the Internet is mature. In fact, if anything we are in the Wild West of the Internet. On the one hand this makes it extremely exciting and on the other hand it makes it extremely disconcerting, even dangerous.
Time to mark essays.