But I have opted to take inspiration from Elwood P. Dowd who said, “an element of conflict in any discussion’s a very good thing. It means everybody is taking part and nobody is left out.”
Kevin wrote, “The top tier schools will presumably develop methods and technologies to enable real distance learning. That will turn the typical university experience on its head. The ability to think outside the traditional “degree” and “program” via the mass customization ability of the online world will be interesting. The lower tier will probably continue to be the lower end of the spectrum. And the middle? With top tier professors able to reach millions around the globe, it may become hard for middle tier schools to compete.”
Brooks wrote, “Online learning could extend the influence of U.S. universities around the world. India alone hopes to build tens of thousands of colleges over the next decade. Curricula from U.S. schools could permeate those institutions.”
Both of them seem to view the future of education as basically the same structure – only with online courses. Same universities – top tier, bottom tier, and so forth – just a different medium. I suspect the folks at Blockbuster Video, Borders Books, and every mom and pop music and DVD outfit thought the same – right up until their particular tsunamis hit them.
My epiphany moment on the subject actually came better than eight years ago. I was on the road (as usual), jet lagged (as usual) and awake at 2:00 AM for no good reason. Flipping through channels on the hotel TV I came across an English professor from Ohio State giving a lecture on the local community college public access station. I was 1,000 miles from Columbus and apparently the idea was that kids at the local cc were supposed to tape this lecture and watch it as part of the curriculum.
He was good – very good. I ducked out of every English lecture I could back when I needed to listen to get a degree, so you can imagine how good it had to be to kep me listening at 2 in the morning when I had no such gun to my head.
Then it occurred to me. Universities as we know them are doomed. They don’t know it and they will certainly go down kicking and screaming, but they are as dead as Marley’s ghost – as dead as Blockbuster and Borders.
In his comment to Kevin’s post, Tony pointed at the heart of the matter when he said he “would put more value on a science or engineering degree from the University of Phoenix than a sociology degree from Harvard.” In fact, there are 2,474 four year colleges and universities in the United States – most of them good at something, none of them good at everything. There are another 1,666 two year schools. How many English professors do you suppose that means? Fifteen, twenty thousand, at least, and most of them mediocre. Who needs any of them when we have this guy from Ohio State and the wherewithall for every kid to learn from him?
In fact, why can’t a kid learn science from some wizard at Cal, law from the best at Harvard, English from this guy from Ohio State? Where is the value proposition in a kid paying for some ivy covered birck and mortar joint, putting up with a load of mediocrity in order to pluck a sporadic gem or two?
For that matter, why do we need to have the bricks and mortar at all? They made sense in the last century when lots of kids needed to learn from a few professors, and face to face was the only way to communicate. The reasons for their physical existence have disappeared in precisely the same manner the reason for physical CD’s and DVD’s; and physical books, magazines and newspapers disappeared. The physical stuff is what costs all the money and it does not add a whit of value to the information being transmitted.
If everyone stayed at home and learned on line from an all-star team of professors, the quality of the education goes up radically while the cost goes down even more radically. Whether some body of grand poobahs wants to cobble together a collection of courses necessary for someone to confer a degree is really beside the point. No matter what the course load, it will be radically better and cheaper.
Kevin decries the loss of the needed opportunity to “reflect on the information, think about it, apply it, scramble it, etc.” “A formal degree from an accredited institution does that“, he says. David Brooks asks, “How are they going to blend online information with face-to-face discussion, tutoring, debate, coaching, writing and projects?”
I suggest all of that can be better done with a group of folks in your own neighborhood – probably done better. Defenders of the academic status quo seem to gloss over the preponderance of classes that are so gargantuan in size that no interaction takes place at all. They skip over the load of pure, 100 proof horse dung that many required classes consist of (on the massive heap of student loan debt my daughter owes are several hundred bucks for a mandatory course on the influence of communism on blacks in northern Alabama during the depression). Want some meaningful interaction? Better off forming a Ben Franklin style junto club and meeting in the local pub with people actually involved in the subject instead of a bunch of inexperienced college kids. Better discussion – and beer! Of course, there can’t be more than a hundred ways to sit at home in your boxer shorts and electronically connect with like-interested souls – and even see each other’s faces.
Brooks asks, “If a few star professors can lecture to millions, what happens to the rest of the faculty?” I dunno … Walmart is usually hiring, but the ex-profs will have to actually show up and do some work. Walmart doesn’t have a tenure system.
He worries about diminishing “the face-to-face community that is the heart of the college experience.” If by the face to face community he means what are the kids going to do without a solidly entrenched partying network to keep their social calendars full, I wouldn’t worry. They will find a way to fill the void.
Whatever the social value of college, the current system costs a kid $85K for a four year degree – and that is at State U – plus living expenses; the average kid walks away with $25K in debt; and the taxpayers pick up another $25K on average. Stiff price to pay for non-value adding waste and the privelege of social interaction.