Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Education 2.0 vs Harvard 2.0

As a freshman on campus in the Fall of 2002 I stayed awake at night dreaming about how different college could be.  One B. Sc. degree, a two-year service mission, three internships, one corporate job, and two startups later I cannot say how excited it makes me to see headlines like this one: "Yahoo! U".

Students starting school this year may be part of the last generation for which “going to college” means packing up, getting a dorm room, and listening to tenured professors. Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges can’t survive.

This article did a good job at distilling down the forces behind this coming change in education, though I don't agree with everything said.

In the future, a handful of Soc. 101 lectures will be videotaped and taught across the United States, and online faculty will administer classes with many students but relatively little individual contact...

The typical 2030 faculty will likely be a collection of adjuncts alone in their apartments, using recycled syllabi and administering multiple-choice tests from afar.

I believe hacking edu means hacking three things: the professor, the textbook, and the classroom. This is where this article falls shortsided.

  • The Textbook. The explosion of ebook readers and online textbooks was actually not even mentioned in this article--fine.
  • The Professor.  "The typical 2030 faculty will... be a collection of adjuncts alone in their apartments" and "online faculty will administer classes with many students but relatively little individual contact."  I think that many see things this way--that the emergence of the dominance of online education will bring the student-to-teacher ration into the tens of thousands and that videotape will kill the radio star.
  • The Classroom. Though it doesn't say it outright, this article, like all others, hint at social media being the new classroom.  I think this will both happen and that it is a good thing, but I don't think that it will be the most successful classroom of the future. 

This article correctly identifies that education 2.0 will separate the "class from the college".  It foresees the aggregation of online content that will bring education efficiently to the masses at low costs.  It also correctly identifies that learning is not the only end goal of college and that the role of certification and degrees are at the core of the college's product offering.

Not all colleges will be similarly affected. My bet would be that the more endowed a school and the more its name carries a cultural value independent of its ability to offer a degree, the less likely it is to change. Like the New York Times, the elite schools play a unique role in our society, and so can probably persist with elements of their old revenue model longer than their lesser-known competitors.

This article even correctly identifies that the Harvards of the world play a special role and have a third core product offering--"a cultural value". But where this and other articles are short sided is that they assume students want to learn and that they want a degree and that education 2.0 will revolutionize those two things. This article states that because of the ivys special third product offering--the cultural value--that they will survive longer than most.

Education 2.0 will bring revolution to both learning and certification, but what this article fails to foresee, is the revolution that will come to that third product offering--the cultural value.  That intangible element of networking and social interaction amongst elite sets of peers under the tutelage of pipe-smoking, sweater-vested professors--these articles all seem to think that innovation and the future will come at the cost of that third element. 

But why should it.  People don't really want degrees--they want what degrees yield and what they mean. They yield jobs and they mean status.  They are, for now, a differentiator.  Many entrepreneurs will profit in this revolution that will make a B.A. a commodity open to the masses and online learning the norm, but the real winner is he who can replace and innovate, not inundate, on what the Harvards of the world offer--that third product of higher education--the cultural value.

And that will never happen with adjunct professors alone in their apartments, with little interaction amongst their students.

Posted via web from hacking edu

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