I was at a meeting this week in which someone brought up an article they read and which I cannot find despite many google attempts, so I’ll try to capture the gist of the comment.
So I was reading this article about the writer’s child starting college. And he wanted to know why we couldn’t get online modules created by professors at Harvard and MIT and Yale – let’s have the best of each world! Some faculty are already selling their courses to University of Phoenix!
Not too subtly implied in this is that we should do it too. I want to preface all of this by saying that I think that we should create things that can serve classroom purposes and that could be worthwhile to a larger market…
However, and this is a big “however,” I don’t think we’re creating education. I’ve been thinking about why that comment caused me so much discomfort and annoyance, and it just popped into my head this morning. You can already get information from the best of Harvard, Yale, etc. in things called “books.”
In essence, some of what we are talking about when we talk about open courseware or about selling online modules is a shiny, interactive, computer-based book. It is a form of instructional media.
Does this mean that our shiny, interactive, computer-based book is not worthwhile? Absolutely not! However, those who consider this as something to replace the need for smart faculty or that the interactions students have with faculty and each other isn’t worthwhile are missing an essential component of what happens during education.
And this is in terms of both access to power and in terms of the relationships formed.
Let’s talk about access to power, since I think everyone can reflect on the relationships they formed with friends and faculty during school.
When I graduated from my undergrad, I moved to NYC and started working at NYU Law shortly after that. During those years, I discovered how much access students there have to the most powerful and influential people in the country and world – whether those people are alums or the faculty or world leaders.
The thing I learned is this: you do not get clerkships for being smart; you do not get a job because your grades were good. You get opportunities based on who you know and who knows you, and that is one very big reason to go to top tier schools. Now, this isn’t to say that the NYU Law students weren’t smart, but rather that I am positive there were equally smart people all over the country without the kind of access the NYU Law students had. They were smart + connected. A huge deal.
It took me quite a while to understand that in my own life. Being smart didn’t matter nearly as much as being in the right place at the right time, having the right connections, or making new connections easily.
All of this is as much a part of education as coursework.
I really wish I had been able to think through to the “media is media” point during the meeting, because that would have underscored some of the points I was trying to make. None of what we’re talking about is wrong or bad or unnecessary, but education in general is different from a learning object/media of any sort.
(Just to note: I think most people understand this, but I also think it’s good to say this stuff out loud to help gel the ideas…)