Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cool schools

Despite my disgust with my own online credential curriculum, I find this idea of a new university, a virtually free university, founded on the idea of social networking, to be pretty intriguing.  I don't know if it's the beginning of the end, like Jeff, but I think this new mode could serve a variety of learners who felt detached from the classic, professor-centered academic institution. For a long time I've felt like our system teaches us that intelligence can be singularized to one dimension (or at most two verbal reasoning and math) and furthermore I just don't think many of my college professors were any good at teaching.  And I don't think they cared about that either.  Or maybe they didn't have time to care about that because of the immense pressure on them to be published in journals whose audiences barely exceed that of this blog's.  Read the NYT interview with UoP's visionary here.

The more you get people around the world talking to each other, great, and the more they talk about what they’re learning, just wonderful...But I’m not at all sure, when you start attaching that to credits and degrees and courses, that it translates so well.

How will they test students? How much will the professors do? How well does the American or British curriculum serve the needs of people in Mali? How do they handle students whose English is not at college level?

-- Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College

It just doesn't seem like this guy wants anything to change, which isn't surprising, since he was a beneficiary of the system. What do you think? Can't students decide what they want to learn, won't that spark curiousity and creativity, and wouldn't a social network provide a far broader range of expertise than any university ever could?  Which pushes us to think harder, a test or an online discussion with curious peers?  We could work out accountability somehow.

I'm worried our higher education system exists primarily to serve professors. I think that a 21st century, online university, built around social networking could allow professors to spend more time doing what they want to be doing...research..and less time doing what, judging by their boring lesson structure coupled with unenthusiastic delivery, they apparently only do out of obligation...teach.

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