The functional equivalent of eating through a tube.

15 08 2011

A new option has arisen, called online learning portals, that might make college superfluous. For example, a company like Learning Counts allows students to create portfolios that document their knowledge and skills. College professors examine the portfolios and certify what the students know and what they can do. This can, of course, lead to college credits. But it can also lead to a classic “cutting out the middle man” phenomenon: students bypassing college and taking the certifications directly to prospective employers. After all, in a real sense a college education is merely a means to an end, and if a better means turns up … well, you get the picture.

– Bob Roper, “Online learning tests campuses,” Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune, July 31, 2011.

Wow. When I wrote about education as a means to an end I never expected to read someone taking that so literally! Where’s the joy in an online learning portal? Now remember this quote, while I continue this post by discussing a completely different subject…

While I haven’t noted it lately, I may be the only vegetarian in the world who’s an Anthony Bourdain fanatic. No Reservations is pretty much the only thing I watch regularly on TV these days (at least until Fringe comes back) because I desperately want to travel more and because I can treat all the meat-eating on the show as a cultural/historical learning experience.

This is a clip from a recent show where Tony visited the legendary Spanish restaurant El Bulli before it closed:

If you watch to about four minutes in, you’ll see the part where Bourdain notes that the chef, Ferran Adria, really enjoys himself while eating. “I love that you’re having so much fun at your own restaurant,” Tony notes. Apparently, Adria used to eat the ever-changing, 52-course menu each week in order to make sure that the diners enjoyed it as much as he did. This seems like a no-brainer to me since customers were undoubtedly paying big bucks to eat there, but apparently it’s rather novel in the restaurant world.

Like an expensive dining experience, higher education ought to be infused with a lot of customer service and at least a little bit of joy. Learning is not just something we do to get a job. It’s supposed to be fun. You might not like all of the 52 courses you get served during your expensive college banquet, but ideally both the chef and the diner should enjoy the experience.

I’m not a big fan of the student as customer model, but if technology destroys the authority of professors in the classroom to look out for educational matters, perhaps it is appropriate to ask why students should settle for compromises when getting an education that nobody would ever accept while eating out. If you went to a restaurant that cooked your meal in one gigantic pot a thousand miles away, you’d send it back. If they gave you warmed-over versions of last year’s meals, you’d send it back. If they handed you a clicker and said “Press ‘A’ if you want more pepper,” you’d leave the restaurant immediately.

Perhaps you don’t like black truffles. Suppose McDonald’s is your kind of place. That’s fine if it makes you happy. Food is a means to an end too (that end being not starving), but think of all the wonderful dining experiences you’d be missing! If you don’t care about the taste and texture and smell of your food, you might as well get all your nutrients through a tube.

I bet getting your nutrients through a tube would be much cheaper than actually eating if the packets hooked up to the other end of those tubes from your arm were mass-produced. Think of the time that would save! No more trouble finding a place to park! No more sitting around chatting with your friends while they cook your dinner in the kitchen! [Making someone’s meal to order is so inefficient.] No more need to tip the waitstaff to bring your food around! No more need to cook at home will leave plenty of extra time for watching TV! [I could watch even more Bourdain!]

If we’re really, really lucky, maybe someday they’ll figure out a way for us to get all our nutrients over the Internet. Happy happy, joy joy.




One response

16 08 2011
SchlagerBlog » Blog Archive » An Online Class Attracts 58,000 Students

[…] Second, though, how does this relate to the larger push being made in history departments to offer more online courses? It seems that many institutions are focusing such efforts on the lowest-level courses, like history survey classes. This, it seems to me, is not a winning proposition. It’s the opposite of the star-taught, high-interest seminar. Our Milestone Documents editorial board member Jonathan Rees has been discussing these issues over at his blog for the past month, and I think his skepticism is well-founded. See, for instance, this post: “The Functional Equivalent of Eating through a Tube.” […]

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