How do you build a better mousetrap without professors?

29 06 2012

I love it when college dropouts tell me what good teaching is. What…you say he’s rich? Why exactly should that matter? Here’s the man himself, Bill Gates, at Wired Campus:

“I know some critics worry about the loss of personal interaction that certainly is central to a high-quality education,” he said. “But this technology, when it’s well conceived, actually can be used to strengthen those interactions.”

People like Kate and Phil have taught me that under very particular (and often particularly expensive) circumstances that might actually be true. So the word “strengthen” is not my problem with that quote. My problem is with “well conceived.” I don’t trust the average higher education administrator to know the difference between what’s good and what’s bad.

Who do I trust? Ask Siva Vaidhyanathan:

We hear every day from higher-education pundits who can’t seem to express themselves in anything other than jargon and buzzwords that American higher education is “unsustainable.” No. It’s just not adequately sustained. There is a big difference. We could choose to invest in people. We could choose to invest in culture. We could choose to invest in science and technology. We choose instead to imagine that there are quick technological fixes or commercial interventions that can “transform” universities into digital diploma mills. Pundits blame professors for fighting “change.” But they ignore the fact that universities are the chief site of innovation and experimentation in digital teaching and research and that professors might actually know what works and what does not.

I’ll give you an example which illustrates that last point. I’ve been using the social highlighting/bookmarking service Diigo for about a year now. I started just highlighting text for screen shots to drop into my PowerPoints. Then I started highlighting documents to better facilitate class discussions. One of my Korean students just asked about sharing my highlights so now I’ve started a group. Diigo does many other things, but I’ve been using the parts of the system that I need and I’ve learned what I need on the basis of my experience in the classroom.

How much experience in the classroom does Bill Gates have? How much experience in the classroom does Helen Dragas have? Come to think of it, how much experience in the classroom do most edtech entrepreneurs have? While I know a few computer science professors have gotten involved in these startups, what boggles my mind is the number of people basically fresh off the street who seem to think they’re education experts.

So Edtech people, it boils down to this. I don’t hate you for what you want to do. In fact, I don’t hate you at all. I’m afraid of you because I fear that your profit-driven enterprises are going to prevent me from making the judgements that I make regularly about what’s best for my students.

If you think you can improve your bottom line and improve the quality of higher education, I’m willing to hear you out.* I may even be willing to help. I do, after all, think a lot about this sort of thing these days.

* Seriously, my contact info is on the right side of this blog.

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6 07 2012
A Classic Case of Misplaced Belief in Market-Driven Educational “Solutions”

[...] been pointing out that the Emperor of Online Education has no clothes. Here’s an excerpt from a recent jeremiad: How much experience in the classroom does Bill Gates have? How much experience in the classroom [...]

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