An Educational Extinction Event?

January 30, 2010 at 11:39 am 6 comments

My colleague, Dick Lipton, asks a really interesting question in his blog: Could Georgia Tech (GIT = Georgia Institute of Technology) and all other universities simply disappear?

I think there is a danger that GIT as we know it today could disappear by 2035. Not just GIT, but all schools, colleges, and universities—at all levels. I think that there is a chance that they could all be gone. They will be replaced by something, but that something may be very different from GIT.

via An Educational Extinction Event? « Gödel’s Lost Letter and P=NP.

His belief is that the University (Uns) will be replaced by On-Line University (Ons).  I have significant concerns about that. Universities already widen the gap between rich and poor, by flunking out or not admitting the poor. On-line courses tend to flunk out even more students, and mostly at the lower-knowledge and poor levels.

I think it’s possible for on-line education to be even better than existing University education, in terms of improving learning and engaging a broader range of students.  CMU has done it in statistics. Computer science is a great target discipline for making it work better. The work has to happen first. If Uns disappear in favor of Ons, before we make Ons better, will lead to worse education for society, especially for weaker students.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. rjlipton  |  January 30, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks. I am glad to hear your comments. The best comment I heard, and you raise too, is the issue of students who learn at different rates. I think On’s could be a better way to handle this issue.

  • 2. Erik Engbrecht  |  January 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I think the socialization aspect of Uns is a lot more important than people realize. Smart kids in public high schools are generally completely delusional about the number of people out there who are as smart or smarter than them. Good Uns give them a glimpse of it, and for many about the their first academic failures – failures that in HS they would have thought were impossible.

    In other words, without good Uns I’m afraid students will never learn that they really aren’t anywhere near as smart or special as they think they are until they hit the workplace. It could make the millenials look downright humble and self-reliant.

    On the flip side, I think it would be really interesting to see undergraduate and graduate level education decoupled from degrees. I’m probably not representative, but if my employer and a few good local universities would stop obsessing over graduate classes as a means to a graduate degree rather than a way to learn, I’d probably take a couple classes every year for the rest of my life.

  • 3. Raymond Lister  |  January 31, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    The University of Al-Karaouine, Morocco, has existed for over one thousand years. The University of Bologna, Italy, has been granting degrees for over 900 years. (Even a Johnny-come-lately like Harvard has operated for over 350 years.) When Gutenberg invented the printing press, there were probably people who thought that the widespread availability of books would quickly lead to the demise of universities. In the 1960s, I remenber people
    thought that the transmitting lectures via broadcast television would be the end of universities. I therefore doubt that universities will disappear soon.

    Having said that, I hope something comes along soon that forces universities to raise their educational game. Contemporary university teaching is very, very poor. George Bernard Shaw wrote that professions “are all conspiracies against the laity” and contemporary university academics certainly run a conspiracy against the contemporary undergraduate.

    I sometimes dream about a system of online education modelled loosely on eBay, where I earn virtual money by teaching some people, and then I use that virtual money to buy the time of people who teach me.

  • 4. Jeff Graham  |  January 31, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Online learning is so impersonal that I can’t believe very many people will choose it voluntarily. If you are placebound, yes. Universities may go broke for lots of reasons, bad management, weakening demographics, plain old competition (there are a LOT of colleges in Pennsylvania), but I seriously doubt online learning will put anyone out of business.

  • […] forget that so far, doing so seems to hurt those who need help the most. As Mark Guzdial says in his recent blog post: Universities already widen the gap between rich and poor, by flunking out or not admitting the […]

  • […] 27, 2010 I commented a few weeks ago about Dick Lipton’s interesting blog post about the extinction of universities. The thread has continued there, and the most recent comment is absolutely fascinating — […]


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