This is what the edtech industry wants to do to your job.

4 02 2012

When I first saw this article, I tweeted that it is perhaps the most evil thing about edtech that I had ever read. I still stand by that, but I do have to hand it to this Canadian columnist for her honesty. She’s written what American edtech companies are too shrewd to admit.

For example, here’s a jobs plan for you:

[T]here’ll always be room for the old-fashioned lecture. But do we really need 10,000 professors in 10,000 classrooms lecturing on the same subject? Why not let students watch the best explainer in the world explain calculus or physics – online, on their own time – and use local professors to work in smaller groups with students? Makes sense – so long as you’re prepared to upend the entire professoriate, which is geared to research, not teaching, and is paid accordingly.

Too bad she doesn’t know anything about higher education. As if contingent faculty haven’t been upended enough. Maybe we can employ them to press the start button, but you certainly won’t need a Ph.D. for that.

I guess that’s a good thing because apparently in our glorious online future it’s vocational education for everyone:

But the real disruption comes when you stop measuring academic accomplishment in terms of seat time and hours logged, and start measuring it by competency. As all employers know, the average BA doesn’t certify that the degree-holder actually knows anything. It merely certifies that she had the perseverance to pass the required number of courses. The most subversive element of Western Governors University is that it certifies students by competency, not seat time. In fact, students don’t sit in a “class” at all.

There’s no prescribed curriculum. Students are assessed before each course to see which concepts they already grasp and which ones they need to master. Then they’re offered a variety of “learning resources” – textbooks, videos, online simulations, conversations with a tutor – to close the gap.

Again, no professors. Just tutors.

And no education either. A “competency” is the minimum amount of skill you need in order to fulfill the obligations associated with their job. She wants to make it possible for students to enroll in the minimum amount of education in order to fulfill the obligations associated with their jobs. That defeats the entire point of a liberal arts education. I can’t believe we even have to have this conversation, but if our self-preservation requires then have it we must.

The sad thing though is that an all online education isn’t even a particularly good way to learn anything, vocational or otherwise. This columnist for the LA Times (via UD) covers the essential secondary school studies very well. I’ll bet you anything you can find similar results from studies at colleges.

The irony here then is that we can help students by helping ourselves. Preserving our own jobs won’t just benefit us, it will preserve the effectiveness of higher education. Yet our honest Canadian friend tells us that:

The demand for higher education is exploding, but so is the cost. And the universities’ traditional business models aren’t sustainable. Non-elite universities (that is, nearly all of them) spend too many resources on research, prestige, bricks and mortar, and trying to be everything to everyone, and not enough resources on effective teaching and learning.

I actually agree with that to a great extent, but I think I have a different definition of “effective teaching and learning” than she does. Yet using her definition, the edtech industry and its MBA-thinking inspired allies have somehow managed to depict professors as the enemy of progress rather than the defenders of actual learning. I have no idea how this has happened, but I certainly know why.

We stand between them and their profit centers. Therefore, we have to go.


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3 responses

4 02 2012
Jonathan Dresner

Just when I think history doesn’t lend itself to the bite-sized video model, this. I still don’t think it’s a GOOD model, but you know they’re gonna try. (For the record, decent historical content, fairly up to date, but lots missing, and impossible to absorb at that speed)

5 02 2012
Matt_L

“Non-elite universities (that is, nearly all of them) spend too many resources on research, prestige, bricks and mortar, and trying to be everything to everyone, and not enough resources on effective teaching and learning.”

no, most public universities spend dick on research. I am on sabbatical this semester and I could not even get the dean of the library to loan me a library carrel! Our library collection is incredibly spotty, for example, its missing a whole swath of important books from the 1980s, books that would help student research. Yes, to an outsider, faculty research might seem to be a waste, but how are you supposed to teach students good research skills in history if you do not practice those skills yourself? Aren’t they here to learn from actual practitioners in their fields of expertise?

Sure, the school just built a ‘wellness center’ (basically a gym). Maybe that is something that could be called a prestigious waste of money. But why shouldn’t our students have a place to workout? Or do only the rich kids who go to Carlton, Luther, and St. Olaf colleges get to have nice things?

In terms of trying to be everything to everyone, isn’t that the model of the land-grant university? Aren’t public universities supposed to do things for the public? For example my school is always hosting events like history day and the regional science fair. We help organize and host an annual film festival in the winter and a Shakespeare festival in the summer. Are the faculty from online colleges going to go and do that for their distant communities?

Yes, I agree we can always spend more money and time on effective teaching and learning. But that is connected to the other stuff a university does.

6 02 2012
This is what happens when you put people who care nothing about higher education in charge of higher education. « More or Less Bunk

[…] again. Who’s going to argue with less pain, same gain? People who actually care about education for […]

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