“That don’t impress me much.”

30 01 2012

CourtJester, over on this post of mine, responds:

Here we have the argument presented that education is something that must always be paid for, received face to face, and never acquired second-hand or indirectly, lest that should dilute the earning power of the highly educated.

So what do we do now? Close down Wikipedia, The Open University, correspondence schools and all the rest?

Of course not. I never suggested that anything be closed for the benefit of a single class of workers. My suggestion was merely that professors who want to put their work online should remember that the people who employ them may not share their benevolent interests in educating as many people as possible. It was a call for faculty to show a little enlightened self-interest. Nothing more.

Yet CourtJester’s comment does suggest a point that I do believe: Who says that being able to take intermediate algebra online is necessarily progress? After all, even in the Khan Academy model there are teachers available to answer questions during schooltime after students view videos as homework. Is Apple going to equip iTunes U with operators trained in all the courses it puts up on the web? Do you want getting help from your instructor to be like calling your health insurance company?

I feel the same way about e-readers. Other than the ability to carry lots of books for long trips abroad, I don’t see how any e-reader is an improvement over the older paper and ink information delivery system. Presumably, the content is exactly the same. All you do by making reading electronic is increase the possibility that something can go wrong with the machinery. Yes, you can insert hyperlinks into an electronic text, but what purpose does that serve other than distraction? Here’s Nicholas Carr from The Shallows on precisely this subject (p. 103):

As soon as you inject a book with links and connect it to the Web–as soon as you “extend” and “enhance” it and make it “dynamic”–you change what it is and you change, as well, the experience of reading it. An e-book is no more a book than an online newspaper is a newspaper.

Seriously, how arrogant do you have to be to think you can improve upon narrative as a way to convey information? All these rocket scientists think they’re Elvis or something.


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