Archive for November 14, 2011

Technology can help Universities with specialized programs, not with undergraduates

An interesting take, from the NYTimes, on how Stanford’s president sees the on-line Stanford AI class experiment.  The virtual campus is for “specialized programs,” for going beyond the undergraduate experience.  The evidence that technology leads to better learning isn’t there, and the undergraduate experience is better face-to-face.  Further, Universities need the money — someone has to pay for the content.

The market for “continuing education” is potentially much larger than undergraduate.  After those four years of college, there are a lot more years in a rapidly-changing workplace.  Maybe that’s where the real money lies?  Could providing the on-going, lifelong learning be the place where some of the costs for the face-to-face undergraduate education are carried?  Maybe the content gets paid for by the lifelong learners, and the undergrads get it at reduced cost?  Recall what John Daniel said about the US Open University — it failed because it went after undergraduate first, not graduate.

John Hennessy, Stanford’s president, gave the university’s blessing to Thrun’s experiment, which he calls “an initial demonstration,” but he is cautious about the grander dream of a digitized university. He can imagine a virtual campus for some specialized programs and continuing education, and thinks the power of distributed learning can be incorporated in undergraduate education — for example, supplanting the large lecture that is often filled with students paying more attention to their laptops. He endorses online teaching as a way to educate students, in the developing world or our own, who cannot hope for the full campus experience.

But Hennessy is a passionate advocate for an actual campus, especially in undergraduate education. There is nothing quite like the give and take of a live community to hone critical thinking, writing and public speaking skills, he says. And it’s not at all clear that online students learn the most important lesson of all: how to keep learning.

As The Times’s Matt Richtel recently reported, there is remarkably little data showing that technology-centric schooling improves basic learning. It is quite possible that the infatuation with technology has diverted money from things known to work — training better teachers, giving kids more time in school.

THE Stanford president is hardly a technophobe. Hennessy came up through computer engineering, used his sabbatical to start a successful microprocessor company, and sits on the boards of Google and Cisco Systems.

“In the same way that a lot of things go into the cost of a newspaper that have nothing to do with the quality of the reporting — the cost of newsprint and delivery — we should ask the same thing about universities,” Hennessy told me. “When is the infrastructure of the university particularly valuable — as it is, I believe, for an undergraduate residential experience — and when is it secondary to the learning process?”

But, he notes, “One has to think about the sustainability of all these things. In the end, the content providers have to get paid.”

via The University of Wherever – NYTimes.com.

November 14, 2011 at 8:58 am 2 comments


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