Wednesday, June 30, 2010

MIT, Yale, and other Barriers to Education

The atrium of Carnegie Mellon University in Qa...Image via Wikipedia

Ben Wildavsky wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed called "Is Globally Democratized Learning Always a Good Thing?" I went there to comment, but I set off their curmudgeon filter. It now says Threat Level Orange and won't let me post.

I feel that society and technology has changed how we communicate and how we learn to such a degree that "the traditional hierarchical relationship between professor and student" is more of a barrier than anything else.

First off, it represents an economic barrier that needed to come down a long time ago. There are places in the world where the globalization of education will mean the difference between life and death for millions of people. Many countries in Africa can't wait for the hand-wringers in the Ivy Leagues to decide when teaching epidemiology online is okay or not. They need the information now and they need to learn the best way to learn that information online.

Second, the hierarchical relationship is not the only method of teaching; it is merely the traditional one. Socrates was suspicious of writing because it took away our reliance on memory.

Third, as much as I appreciate the efforts of MIT and Yale, they did not invent open education content. Much of their content online consists of syllabi and reading lists. I do not find comfort in the repetition of "MIT, Yale, Carnegie Mellon" - these universities are institutions of exclusion. And ironically, I believe one of the reasons Anya Kamenetz is so popular is because she is a product of Yale and the access that background represents. There are far more revolutionary writers on education and open content that will not get that kind of attention.

Statements like "it seems to me that students don’t always learn effectively on their own or with minimal assistance" represent a complete misunderstanding of what online learning is and an unfamiliarity with the basic research into the field of online learning. Students in online classes can have highly interactive, thoughtful, and engaging experiences. There are examples of poor online teaching just as there are examples of poor face-to-face teaching. But to think that the alternative to face-to-face is "interactive software" is a misunderstanding of online pedagogy.

I disagree with Dunderstadt as quoted in this article as well. There is a significant amount of knowledge creation and research that is going on via the internet - for instance in open classrooms like George Siemen's and Stephen Downes courses on Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. There are many examples like this.

How will professors of traditional universities be able to provide "the experience and wisdom to intelligently navigate the new world of knowledge" if they are unwilling to experience it themselves?
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  1. Kitty Marschall7/01/2010 7:00 AM

    Good post!
    I think there is a great deal of potential for professor/student interaction in good online teaching, maybe even more potential than in some more traditional settings. I assisted with a class that was taught out of the central campus, and the lectures were given over interactive video/closed circuit TV to the satellite campuses. (My job was to teach the hands-on computer lab later) That is old technology to do the same thing. Now the class is taught entirely online- from what the professor tells me, there is a lot of back and forth learning- students with her, as well as between the students.
    The non-traditional students at the satellite campuses could not get away from their responsibilities to go 'down state' for more classes, but the main campus wasn't comfortable with hiring more assistants or sending more of the 'better qualified' tenured professors to the satellites to teach. The state and the profession both profit from people already working in the profession (librarianship) getting more education and improving their professional understanding.
    On another note, sorry you got locked out of commenting on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog post. very very ironic. also sad. I am glad I followed the link that you posted.

  2. Any paradigm shift, remember, goes uphill.

  3. Hi Geoff, I also found your blog from the link in your comment on Wildavsky's piece and, like Kitty, am glad I did!
    It is especially nice to see someone writing about the myth that capitalism encourages innovation (What is Blackboard Building Now?) as this is an idea still promulgated even in the highest centers of learning such as from Douglas Rae in his Course online via YouTube. An irony is that Marx himself was the main promoter of this idea feeling that communism could only succeed after the innovations brought about by the Capitalist economy.
    Open Ed doesn't mean much if the course has no real substance does it?
    I have found though one gem among the Yale Edu Courses on YouTube. It is The Moral Foundations of Politics taught by Professor Ian Shapiro and wonder if you might enjoy taking it and perhaps promoting it some on your site as I do on my blog thecleverevolutionproject.blogspot.

    Another interesting project is The Hole in the Wall project started by Dr. Sugata Mitra. He has a few interesting Ted talks.
    I propose that we could have had free open education of the highest quality for all since the advent of videotape but for our economic system.
    It is encouraging to see blogs such as yours. Thanks