Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

UVA Board Just Wanted to "Disrupt" Education with Free Online Learnin'

Andrew Rice's Times mag story on UVA and the firing and unfiring of Teresa Sullivan sheds a bit more light on the BIZARRE STUFF that happened there.

What had the board so worried? In late May, as she prepared to remove Sullivan, Dragas e-mailed a board colleague a link to a Wall Street Journal column, beneath the subject line: “Why we can’t afford to wait.” The article described a joint venture that offers free, open online courses. In the last year, Harvard, Stanford, M.I.T. and other elite schools have moved aggressively into this arena, drawing significant global audiences, if no actual revenue. While many veteran professors roll their eyes at predictions that online learning will transform the structure of universities, to certain segments of the donor community—the Wall Street and Aspen Institute types—higher education looks like another hidebound industry awaiting creative destruction…. This discussion has been influenced by the ideas of Clayton M. Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor and guru of “disruptive innovation,” the concept that established companies are often overtaken by upstart competitors because they are incapable of embracing new technologies.

LOL! It's true, newspapers, for instance, became so cutting edge and important and financially successful when they started putting everything online for free. Most industries, in fact, become most successful when they start serving people who aren't already paying customers with a new free product—you know, just like taxis, and food service, and book publishing, and recorded music, and dairy farming, obviously.

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Multiphasic (#411)

Is this referring to the Open Curriculum project, which is basically an accidentally brilliant throwdown/fuck you to anyone who think you can teach without a teacher? Or is it Coursera, which is most definitely not going to remain free?

Either way, it's forever amusing that nobody on either side of this fight expounded on how any of this helps students. Online courses are a crap way to learn and will remain a crap way to learn so long as their raison d'etre is to reduce the amount of time people have to spend engaged–in the material, the teachers, and their peers.

@Multiphasic Coursera. Four courses initially.

@Brooklyn Battery Actually it's edX, which started out as MITx before Harvard and Berkeley got involved. Coursera is being adopted by UMich I believe (and won't be free). EdX, for that matter, won't be free either I think (just cheaper than for-real Harvard/MIT). They might have been saying it would be free when the WSJ article came out, but find it much funnier to believe that the WSJ either got it wrong or Dragas misunderstood it, then made a pretty major(ly dumb) decision based on it, and then the Times didn't bother pointing out either/both of these mistakes!

(I work in IT in higher ed, so I Have Opinions about this). What the media (and, scarily, some executive-types in universities) is mistakenly doing is conflating the idea of massively open online courses (Udacity, Coursera, Khan Academy) which are currently free (but certainly won't remain so) and some of which are toeing into the waters of University affiliation (for better or probably for worse) with the general idea within academia that we are currently doing a pretty fucking bad job teaching things, especially in large classes, and that technology and renewing active application of pedagogy in curriculum design should be used to fix that. Including doing things like making lectures videos you watch before class instead of three-hour naps in a big room. That is the actual thing we should be focusing on/discussing, not whether or not a 200,000-person online Intro to CS class (which I took, it was quite good!) is the future of education. Because of what Choire said.

Multiphasic (#411)

@antarcticastartshere I would like to hear your Opinions some time! (You are not going to revisit this so I won't get to. But enthusiasm has been expressed, anyway!)

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