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September 15, 2009


One of college's overlooked benefits is that students are exposed, often for the first time, to tremendous diversity- different cultures, races, sexual orientations, and viewpoints are represented in student unions, dorms and labs. It would be a real shame to lose all that.

Gotta agree. I learned very little of value in class; but, a great deal of life experience at college. For my own kids, I shall impress upon them the need to get a college degree at a school far away from home.

It may be closer than you think. Interesting article on Straighterline from Washington Monthly.

From a purely economical point of view, your stance is correct. However, you do not account for the social factor of studying at a university. The university is not only an expensive information distribution system. It also serves the purpose of renewing the social order and upholding the soccial class system. At college, you form friendships, opinions and preconceptions that are widely different from the ones you formed during your high school years. Some of that social capital will remain with you till the end of your life, making you a member of the educated class.

A college degree won't guarantee you a place even in the comfortable middle classes, but it is a virtual prerequisite for entering the upper middle or upper class.

A distance-learning degree might give you the same amount of knowledge, but it will not socialize you into the academia. Thus, a distance-learning degree is much less useful mark of social distinction.

I support traditional university because it is a relatively democratic means of renewing the social order. If the current system would be replaced with wide-spread distance education, the function of upholding the social order would be transferred to another set of institutions. I'm not sure what that would be, but I believe it would be even more unegalitarian than the current university system.

On the one hand Ican see how this could make advanced education accessable for more poeple. On the other hand it could lead to increasing polarization as people seek self-reinforcing "knowledge" from polarized sources. This already exists, of course, in the homeschool to Regence type education route which allows people to seek only the information that supports their preconceptions, but a proliferation of on line education could make that phenomenon more common.

Fully agree with jimjbollocks. Unfortunately that would add appeal to certain parts of society that want to 'protect' their offspring from all of that.
But what about the practical aspects of some fields of study? Simulations may do for some stuff but imo it's impossible to learn chemistry or physics properly without doing experiments by hand yourself. Virtual reality is still far from being able to make up for that.

While I am all for access to higher education for those who have the "nous" for it regardless of means, I wonder, as per Hartmut and Wonkie, if it will become another segmented commodity, such as what has happened with the mass media (or perhaps, what you might call the micro-media - the whole proliferation of ideologically-charged blogs and political sites and such). It will give access to more people - but I'm wondering what would be better: the present nexus that really isn't accessible to all because of the question of means but has the effect of an (albeit imperfect) intellectual and social melting-pot, or a future nexus that would be more socially scattered, academically fragmented, but individated to one's interests and curiosity at best (and one's passions and prejudices at worst), one that would ironically be more...democratic.

Gulp and hmmm...

Yet again...get the cream pies ready...I should have credited JimJ and Lurker on my last one. No slights intended, and my apologies.

While there are attractive aspects to this, I always wonder where the next Harold Bloom or Jonathan Spence will come from in this scenario? If (to be a bit overwrought) all of the academic jobs except those few experts in each field disappear, what does that do to research, to the exchange of and competition between ideas within academia? It's great that the big names are there, and it would be great in many ways if their insights and ideas were accessible to a larger audience, but they didn't start off as big names; they had to get jobs, and teach, and write, and research, and build that reputation. Now, I admit that I have a dog in this fight, being a few months away from finishing a history PhD, but I think these are real concerns.

On the other hand there are academics that find the teaching obligation a nuisance (immortalized by Mustrum Ridcully: "Who let students into my university?") and would prefer to reduce universities to pure research institutions.

First, the article's author is named Zephyr Teachout, which is great.

I think if anything, the long-distance education will continue to soak up the people who are only in it for career training, and who can't afford, or can't commit to, the full-time prestige degree, helping the community college system soak up the people who won't pay the exorbitant rate of the full "college experience" (which I'll be the first to admit, is great).

I am sure that the elites will be fine, for the people who can afford such things (or who are willing to enjoy eternal debt), and that the social advantages will revert to the crusty uppers, just like in the bad old days. If my kids went to college today, they could attend a state school for a similar hit that my top-notch private geek diploma cost. In ten years? I suppose I can prostate myself to the banks again, or the kids can. The lower-tier universities will still fulfill their important social function of delaying young people's entry into the work force.

I do worry about research universities, as well as, like M. Canuck, where our tenured specialty academics would come from.

For all the hell I ever went through in high school, and all the rushing about I did in college, the one true positive value that going to school with others my age was that I went to school with others my age. For all the technical training you get (math, language, history, science, specific skill training in law or engineering or business or journalism) there is no online replacement for frat partying. Myspace don't count.

And besides, what would happen to college football/basketball???

And besides, what would happen to college football/basketball???

I could have done very well without that (and it's not the cult* over here that is in the US).

*and I do not mean that like in 'cult movie' but as in 'religion with extremly low tolerance levels for those that are not interested in it but are forced to participate nonetheless'

I don't see Universities dying, but I do see them in 20-30 years becoming more specialized. We're just getting into the basics of distance learning with all the new means available.

As noted, we need the technical hands-on portion for the sciences, and as much as people try in distance learning, you don't get the back-and-forthing that is so vital on the liberal arts classes. But for the 101 and 102 level classes, I could see more online stuff - where you'd fill up a room with 200 students for Psych 101, it doesn't really matter.

And put my vote for "Of all the things I learned while in college, few were found in a classroom."

The aggregation of years of dining hall conversations, tavern debates, and dorm room bull sessions are my most valuable memories. And honestly, I learned more ...
That too will move online, in fact it already has. Facebook, twitter, blogs and for decades now, fora dedicated to discussion of specific subjects.
That said, hands-on experience is still essential for many subjects and will continue to be. Plus, we already know, that lectures have their limitations and that chat-room discussions (or video conferences) are inferior to actually getting people together in one room. Third, college also teaches lots of important social skills e.g. collaboration, presentation and discussion. Those can be taught online as well, but so far that's been an inferior choice. If ultimately, most college educated people end up working from home as well that evaluation might change, but as long as most people work with co-workers at a workplace, we might as well prepare them for that experience in a similar environment.

So at most we might end up with two "shifts" of students taught every year: Half during summer and winter, half during autumn and fall, with the rest of the time spent learning online or through books.
Faculties will shrink and specialise and there'll probably and even stronger seperation between teaching faculty and research faculty. The benefit of a qualified teacher's presence (and his limited & paid time) can no more be supplanted by the internet and video technology than through a really good textbook.

what would happen to college football/basketball???

Well, University of Phoenix Stadium is the name of a place that the Arizona Cardinals, an honestly professional team, play. The University of Phoenix has no teams.

Would the demise of the NCAA semi-pro teams be so bad?

I went to a campus-less university (Georgia State), and it was a fairly awful experience. No dorms, no 'student area' around the campus, nowhere to hang out except in the noisy, crowded and barely bearable cafeterias.

Nothing that smacked of "college life" within a 15-minute drive. It sucked. Bad. Instead, we had winos. LOTS of them. It's no exaggeration to say I had to tiptoe thru them to get to class. On one occasion, I saw a student dashing to class...only to be struck and killed by a bus.

Granted, the internet will not impose such things (will even 'save' people from them), but it WILL spread the substantial lack of anything that could be called "student life", or a "college experience". I got mine by moving to a college town after college....

I have to disagree with some folks. My classroom experiences, as a philosophy undergraduate, at Loyola-Marymount blew my mind. The Professors were profound and Western Philosophy & 21/2 semesters of Chinese Philosophy never looked so good!

Besides Yale: MIT Open Courseware.

Basically the whole catalog.

First, the article's author is named Zephyr Teachout, which is great.

There's a name I haven't heard in a while!

Zephyr Teachout was Howard Dean's Director of Internet Outreach during his presidential campaign in 2004. She hired Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong as internet consultants for the campaign. In January 2005, they all got involved in one of Teh Intertubes' major pissing matches when she accused Kos and Armstrong of not sufficiently disclosing their relationship to the Dean campaign.

Assuming that education - ok training - becomes a permanent necessity for an adult to stay employed, how much "hands on" college experience does one need (or in my case, could one survive)?

MIT's Open Course Ware project is much more extensive. Though still too few video lectures. But as I understand it the objective is to put the entire university curriculum online.

I can see how the growth of this phenomenon could kill universities but I think as likely is that universities will survive but the dissemination of knowledge or even maybe real education is spread to the entire planet. Even to patzers like me who tend to follow our noses into interesting topics rather than into fields of study.

Great thread -- I should stop writing about health care. :)

my father's a 30-year English prof at a small community college in upstate NY, and he's been doing internet classes for years. i think he's down to a single meat-space class this term, even - plus office hours. he loves it.

The MIT catalog is more extensive, but a lot of the classes are audio only. That's fine for many classes, but it's probably a huge prob in any sort of say econ class, or anythign where you need to see powerpoints

One thing that I think is great that has changed since I got out of high school (1968): the world of post-high school learning has changed vastly to facilitate "life-long learning."

When I was young, you either went to college right out of high school or you didn't, and if you didn't do it then, you never did. You either finished within the next 4 or 5 years or you didn't, and if you didn't finish then, you typically never did. (I'm just saying "typically" -- some people did go part-time for longer times. But it wasn't nearly as common as now.)

These days there are many, many ways to do it differently: to start later in life, to go part-time, to start, stop, start again, to switch fields later, etc. I got a 4-year degree after high school, then a Ph.D. I was never employed (except some part-time teaching) in my original field; there were almost no jobs when I finished, so I entered the relatively new and (in those days) “Wild West” field of computer programming and have built on that ever since.

But to keep myself entertained I have both taken and taught college classes over the years: I took peace studies classes for a while, and later, after doing the intro to linguistics from MIT OCW, I took linguistics classes and eventually taught a couple of classes myself.

In all the classes that I both took and taught in these later years (all at public universities), the age distribution was wide: from students who had come to college right out of high school to middle-aged students who were in school part-time while they still had jobs and families. The mix of ages added something that wouldn’t have been there if everyone had been 18. (On the other hand, I agree with the commenters who have said there’s something irreplaceable about the experience of leaving home for the first time, being in college with your peers, etc.)

Online learning, college aggregators, etc., as described in the article -- all of that facilitates life-long and planet-wide learning, and in a way that college via campus only (or as cleek says, meat-space) can’t. On the other hand, I think we would lose something valuable if colleges went the way of the horse and buggy. In the abstract there’s no reason why the two systems can’t co-exist and even strengthen each other. But funding for state colleges is (I believe) dropping, and elite private colleges are getting more expensive while the gap between rich and poor widens inexorably.

This calculation is a crude illustration of that point: when I went to college in 1968, the minimum wage was $1.65. Annual expenses at my private university (tuition and living expenses) were roughly $3,000 per year. Leaving taxes and all other complications out of the calculation, it would have taken 1,818 hours, or about a year’s work, to earn $3,000 at $1.65. When my kids went to college a few years ago, the minimum wage was (appallingly, but let me not get started on that) http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/anth484/minwage.html>$5.15 and private colleges were costing upwards of $45,000 a year, or 8,737 hours at minimum wage. The ratio between the cost of a year in a private college in 2005 was thus almost 5 times what it had been when I went to college.

That doesn’t bode well for a lot of things.

publius -- I haven't checked MIT in any detail lately, and I suppose it varies from class to class, but don't they give you powerpoints, handouts, problem sets, etc?

"The ratio between the cost of a year in a private college in 2005 was..."

should of course be:

"The ratio between the cost of a year in a private college and the minimum wage in 2005...."

I should eat breakfast before trying to write a coherent sentence.

It's interesting to see virtual universal acceptance here of the value added that comes from the college experience independent of the *book learning*. That's definitely my view as well. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the social interaction and contacts are probably more important - and more valuable - than the *book learning*. People intuitively know that - which is why interest in an actual college education hasn't flagged - although capability to attend has been dampened by the economy.

Still -- The old adage that it's not what you know but who you know is alive and well. I suspect that until that changes, the Internet poses a lot less of a threat to the post-grad educational system than the article indicates.

To take but one example, the Internet could create the mother of all course catalogs, complete with the world's best lecturers. If a million people wanted to hear Harold Bloom on Shakespeare, or Jonathan Spence on China, they could.

But how hard is it for 100,000 people to ask a question, or 10,000 to have office hours with that individual?

And what everyone above me has said.

Zephyr Teachout was Howard Dean's Director of Internet Outreach during his presidential campaign in 2004. She hired Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong as internet consultants for the campaign. In January 2005, they all got involved in one of Teh Intertubes' major pissing matches when she accused Kos and Armstrong of not sufficiently disclosing their relationship to the Dean campaign.

Still scratching my head over this one. Kos and Armstrong had a relationship, which they didn't disclose to their employer, the Dean campaign?

The online college phenom. has, as most here agree, both good and bad features. But I'd say it could be a net-positive. In our credentials-crazed culture (don't get me started on THAT), there is close to a de facto 'individual mandate' for higher education, but the subsidies are even less adequate than Baucus' 300% of poverty [had to get health care into this somehow!]. You have to go to school after HS, but unless you go to a commuter/community college (which doesn't have much of the aforementioned 'campus life' anyway), it's not cheap. I wish that every kid who wanted to could afford to spend 4 years after HS being a student on a campus; it IS a uniquely valuable experience for many. But even state schools cost around $20k per year now, not including room, board, etc. Public universities were a great idea, but that idea has been pretty corrupted.

My wife is from one of those countries in which university is free if you can get in. She ended up with a useful and lucrative advanced degree and absolutely no debt or financial hardship for her parents. The Land Grant college idea was a nice American alternative to that, but the former comes out ahead in the end: you can't raise fees if there are no fees, and it's much harder to change something-free to something-which-costs, than it is to let existing fees creep up and up and up. I'm glad great universities subsidize graduate work and research, but doing it so much on the undergraduate's dime is neither fair nor sustainable.

I'm sure some of you have read about how colleges are using on-line learning in their *own* gen ed classes, saving a great deal of money. But the fees for the undergrad student don't go down - the college just redirects the dollars. Bad idea. It's going to bite them in the end, and they'll deserve it. What many colleges offer now - ALL they offer which is exclusive to them - is Official Certification. A slender reed.

Those online Yale lectures are a lot of fun, but I found that actually watching every lecture in real time was not a good use of my time. I like to watch a lecture or two, and then read the rest. I don't think one loses anything very valuable doing that (depending on the course, etc.).

NC state televises (or used to, haven't looked in a while) a lot of their classes on local cable, for free. i watched a lot of econ and US history lectures because the professors for those two, whoever they were, were so entertaining.

Janie - it depends, but yes, a lot of them have all that. It's just not as organized as clearly as they could be. For instance, some of them are from 2003/04, which I still consider to be functionally pre-YouTube.

So they're just not as neatly wrapped up like the Yale site. Don't get me wrong -- the comprehensiveness is great, but it's just harder to navigate

One more problem is that teaching helps the teacher as well as the student. I tend to think that you don't really understand something unless you know how to explain it to other people. Insights into the subject come from attempts to simplify and explain it; on the other hand if you spend all your time talking to other people who already understand it at an advanced level, you have no incentive to simplify or to reduce your use of jargon.

That said there is nothing like the product of a really good teacher. I'm thinking of the Feynman Lectures, say. That kind of quality of material available for free would be an enormous advance.

As far as the college system goes, while it does have some social-rebalancing function, I doubt it's that strong, and to some degree it operates in reverse - that is, it gives another four years of pressure & discipline to the scions of richer families, even those who aren't quite as bright or as motivated as many kids who don't wind up in college. And when they graduate, the degree is a ticket to a higher entry point or in some cases a ticket to a particular professional career completely off-limits to those who didn't go to college.

I was just talking with my husband about college costs yesterday, and about how it is now impossible for a student to put him/herself through college. His parents did it, in the 50s, I did it in the 50's and 60s (took my time) but by the time my husband was in college (he's younger than I am)it was no longer possible.

When I was young, anyone could go to college, but you didn't need to. Now, you need to, but not everyone can

Following up on this from jonnybutter, and the question of the availability of videos:

Those online Yale lectures are a lot of fun, but I found that actually watching every lecture in real time was not a good use of my time. I like to watch a lecture or two, and then read the rest. I don't think one loses anything very valuable doing that (depending on the course, etc.).

Some of this is a function of the learning style of the learner. When I as in college, at the beginning of each semester I tried to figure out ASAP whether (in non-discussion-based classes) the professor was going to basically teach the textbook versus presenting a whole separate body of material in lectures. If the lectures were just a rehash of the book, I mostly skipped class. (Lucky for me I went in an era when and to a college where there was usually no penalty for skipping.)

I only realized it clearly much later, but for me it's vastly easier to absorb information from reading than from listening. Other people are the opposite, and no doubt others aren't heavily biased either way. But for me that means that if the material is available in a textbook or lecture notes, I couldn't care less if there's no video, or even audio, of the lectures.

Different strokes and all that. I could also go on about the effect on night people of having to get up for 8:00 a.m. lectures...but I won't. ;)

I just now finished teaching a section of my freshman biology lab course, and I have to say that the idea of replacing what we did today with some sort of passive, online "distribution" of information makes me feel sorry for future students.

How can any online activity substitute for the educational experience of actually wading into a mountain stream, turning over rocks, netting critters, observing and discussing ecological processes in real time, as a class?

Knowledge is so much more than just printed course material to be absorbed. Social interaction is part of the package, as well as hands-on, physical experience of a subject.

I guess what I'm saying is that if online classes are like the Facebook version of meat classes, then count me out.

I was just talking with my husband about college costs yesterday, and about how it is now impossible for a student to put him/herself through college.

I did my undergrad at a state school at the end of the century, and worked my way through school without scholarships (though I probably could and should have gotten some) or loans until the very end when I borrowed $5k for an overseas summer program. I'm not convinced it's no longer possible to put one's self through school, though I'll freely admit it's tilting that way depressingly fast (a semester cost about three times as much when I graduated as when I started, though that was covering a 7-year period including a year off to work full time).

Granted, the above anecdotea is regionally dependent, I'm sure. And the last few years' budget crises have probably done wonders for reducing the significance of going to a state university instead of a private one...

Well, online distant learning and traditional campus life will probably evolve into co-existence.

I want the following: online school and college, online job, online marriage, online children, online hospitalization, online travel, online groceries, and in the end, online death.

Then I want an avatar (in an avatar bathrobe) to do all of this stuff, especially that last, so I don't have to.

No I don't.

If online degrees completely supplant campus life, will there be online dorm pranks, online panty raids, online shag carpet, online bongs, online skipping class, online frat hazing, online blah blah?

I guess what I'm saying is that if online classes are like the Facebook version of meat classes, then count me out.

They don't have to be. A few years ago, I was working in research on online learning, and while I personally loathe the idea of online classes as opposed to physical ones, I'd staunchly argue that they can be very effective learning tools. While there are some subjects that require co-located students, a lot of very involved work can be done remotely, including (simulated) labwork and collaboration. The instructors may need specialized software tools, but a lot of very solid instruction can be performed remotely.

Mind, it's not without its own unique problems. It's simply a different animal. If it is treated as simply "remote lecturing", I'd tend to agree its value is limited... but at that point it's facing the same difficulties you'd find in extremely large lecture sections of a course. Oft as not, in a situation like that the students may as well be hundreds of miles away from the lecturer.

jamieM: it depends on the lecturer and course, but what works for me - if the lecturer is reasonably good - is to watch a video or two to get a feel, and then read the rest.

And - what Jacob Davis said. a.) The process of a teacher learning to teach is indispensable to both teachers and students, and b.) There is no reason the best teaching material (e.g. Feynman) shouldn't be free and freely available. In fact, learning is already free, and more freely available than ever; it's certification which is expensive. I don't have a problem with Doctors and Engineers having rigorous certification requirements, but writers? Musicians? 'Communicators'? Even historians? I'm actually in college again myself, and...it's really a bit of a scam in some ways.

I think previous comments have sufficiently covered anything I would say about benefits or drawbacks of on-line university education. So I'll just say this:

When I think back to my life at Rutgers from '86 to '90, especially now that I'm a working guy with a wife and three kids, I feel guilty for having had so little responsibility and so much hedonistic fun (even as an EE major). It seems like it should have been illegal. (Well, some of it was.) It's like another life that I dreamed, that couldn't possibly have been real, but was. (And I had health care through the university. Neat, huh?)

I can't say whether or not society should afford that to people, but I'm damned glad it was afforded to me.

Even in classes were we are “rehashing” textbooks, or even the works of Kant and Hegel, the Professor would always engage in dynamic and helpful discussions, which could not be done, if I was “strictly reading.”

For a long time now, it's been possible to get an excellent education using the free public library, but for most people this doesn't actually work well in practice. Likewise, one can get in shape simply by working out at home, but for most people, joining a gym is a lot more effective. We're social animals, and we find it a lot easier to do something if everyone else is doing it too.

This, basically, is what university education offers: A chance to study while everyone around you is also studying. You can't get that level of constructive peer pressure just by taking courses online. Which probably means that most people will get a better education by going to a traditional campus. Being a commuter student is just harder, and the switch to telecommuting isn't going to change that much.

Broadcasting social science classes makes sense but physical sciences? No way.

You gotta get your hands dirty and get a few chemical burns, undergraduate science training and research is really the only way one an become accustom to lab life and culture. Its really the only way one learns how to be a scientist these days.

That's not replaceable by anything the series of tubes will be able to produce anytime soon.

I have on the other hand had a class where the teacher LITERALLY read from the textbook. Physics classes. Half the class didn't come to lecture, and many of the rest of us slept through the class. He went page by page, using the schematics from the book on the overhead, never looked up, and basically ignored the class. This was at a community college.
I don't think that was the worst class I've had, the worst was with a teacher who didn't even read from the textbook, because he was writing the textbook, and posting it as pdfs, full of errors. And would stand there and go through one problem for like twenty minutes, and then go "Wait, I did this wrong at the beginning, ignore this". He also ignored the class, to the point where I and other students would just interrupt with out questions, because waiting didn't get us anywhere. These were far worse than any kind of video class would have been. Some of the other classes I've taken have been live distance/video classes, which have mostly worked pretty well.

Classes that involve things like going out and exploring the biology of a local stream are a totally different animal. Lots of basic classes are just students watching a professor talk, and nobody asking questions.

Still scratching my head over this one. Kos and Armstrong had a relationship, which they didn't disclose to their employer, the Dean campaign?


Teachout accused them of not disclosing their relationship to the Dean campaign when blogging on DailyKos and MyDD. This was in the immediate wake of the Armstrong Williams scandal, and conservative pundits like Bill O'Reilly and Bob Novak picked up Teachout's accusation and tried to turn it into a tu quoque defense of the Bush administration's relationship to the media.

I have on the other hand had a class where the teacher LITERALLY read from the textbook. Physics classes. Half the class didn't come to lecture, and many of the rest of us slept through the class. He went page by page, using the schematics from the book on the overhead, never looked up, and basically ignored the class.

I think the worst course I ever had was one where the professor read straight from the publisher-provided textbook summary overheads*. We had around 50 students in the class, even though it was a senior-level CS course and would normally be capped at 25; the prof gave rambling, incoherent replies to the rare student question (we learned our lesson regarding futility quickly). That was a class that would have lost nothing from being taught remotely (and by "taught remotely", I mean having audio and video streamed online), but it could have (should have) benefited from the physical classroom.

*That the prof gave (clueless-TA-proctored) overlong, brutal tests including materials found nowhere in the book (and thus nowhere in his lectures, either) was just caustic icing on a cake most vile.

Nombrilisme Vide, I'm currently going through something similar to that hell. When I signed up for this class (to finish out my MBA) it was taught by an expert of the field, who had years of experience.

Now? Well the school stepped on that professor's last straw so he left over the summer. So it is being taught by an adjunct, who I'm sure is a nice man, but is so far out of his element (his background is finance and accounting, and this is organizational behavior related).

So he's reading from the text book, picking out the "highlights" and it has become the game to pick out the highlights before he does. Mostly by listing the topic headings.

And the midterm? Instead of generating one on his own he's using random questions from the book.

The scary thing is that he was apparently even worse in qualitative statistical modeling.

There are some practical considerations - some subjects (biology, chemistry, music, other performing arts) simply cannot be taught online - how do you take a biology or chem lab on a computer?

Universities will not go away, but there will be a huge downsizing as the people who are only there for the paper and information find ways to get that without having to do all the qualitative critical thinking that comes from being pushed to consider things you would not otherwise have pursued on your own.

(Yes, I know that online courses *can* do all the things that meatspace courses can -- I've taught a few -- but I also know that many students would opt out of educational challenge if they could and take the easiest way to high GPA. How many will choose an easy A over a great teacher? How much is learned as a direct result of having a personally difficult, but not incompetent professor? And many of the ones who will opt for a challenge will rely on brand recognition to choose their classes. Diversity of thought will suffer.)

I'm also hoping that the prediction of greater specialization is wrong. The academy needs more interdisciplinary work, not less.

I'm a big-time academic technophile, but I have yet to see any big name prediction that I think will be a net positive. I will however say this: if these predictions are accurate the overall quality of the students who do opt for the traditional model will improve as those primarily after the credentials seek more efficient models for getting them.

Try this link for some good video lectures

I don't know if universities are obsolete.

Because I don't know if there are "Universities" anymore. Is "Liberty University"? Is University of Phoenix? C'mon...

They're consumer-driven factoid-factories churning out credentialed canon-fodder for the Corporate/industrial State. Old Siwash U is the final, finest filter on the Murkin educational sorting machine, which begins even before birth.

It was my experience, teaching at a couple of Division 1 schools in the '80s and '90s that a majority of undergraduate students were in university to 1) get laid, 2) get drunk, 3) get their prejudices ratified, and 4) get their tickets stamped--get the credential--in no particular order.

Undergrads were not interested in reading, writing, or thinking. Well-written, well-organized, well-thought essays were rare. Intellectual sophistication was dismal, over all--though there are/were always exceptions. ALmost any and every attempt at analysis--no matter how mundane--seemed to include the phrase/sentiment "I feel" as a buttress for some assertion, as if that were truth warrant enough.

These were flagship schools. The parents of the 'traditional' students--freshman, 18-19 yr. olds, et seq.--had sufficient resources to send their kids anywhere the kids could get in, and the kids stayed home and went to old Siwash!

This is the fault of the University as much as anything. In order to 'attract customers,' universities created a culture in which 'knowledge' is a commodity. The modern University is an academic Shopping Mall, and professors are regarded and treated like the retail clerks. They are assigned to fetch and fit certain "skill sets" as if they were jeans and shoes. Students seemed to believe they "bought" their grades with their tuition.

It became an oppressive atmosphere. I grew weary of listening to childishly furious harangues because I'd conferred a less-than-stellar 'grade' upon some half-baked piece or other of a student's "work."

ok...rant over

Personally, I found the introduction of powerpoint into (chemistry + related) lectures to be a net loss comapred to chalk and blackboard. If the teacher has to develop the stuff on the board, the students have time to take notes and can also follow the development (which is much more difficult if simply a page of equations appears on the wall). Using the textbook in the lecture is not necessarily bad. A physics professor, whose lectures I had to attend, made effective use of the huge lecture hall with multiple blackboards, overhead projection (of his own textbook) and life experiments (usually projected on the wall by use of arc lamps! It's incredible how effective shadow play can be).

To my mind, the greatest value of "meat world" universities is that, when you attend school, you're not expected to do other stuff. School is what you do.

There are good and bad points to make about delivering the content through media other than face-to-face, but if you don't have the time and freedom from distraction to actually work with the material and make it your own, it doesn't much matter how it's presented.

When I was young, anyone could go to college, but you didn't need to. Now, you need to, but not everyone can

True dat. Read'em and weep.

And, apropos of nothing in particular, Edward Tufte on PowerPoint.


It was my experience, teaching at a couple of Division 1 schools in the '80s and '90s that a majority of undergraduate students were in university to 1) get laid, 2) get drunk, 3) get their prejudices ratified, and 4) get their tickets stamped--get the credential--in no particular order.

No particular order???? Have you met undergraduate men? You must have been one; you've put the primary reason for residential higher education at number (1) already.


Powerpoint is a tool of the Devil. Not because it's bad; because it's so insidiously evil. I use it to show maps and portraits and occasionally bullet points. But because it's so useful for these things, it is so easily misused: to provide the same material as the speaker is speaking, for example. That is soul-destroying to sit through.

Seems like we're forgetting something: the kids going to the colleges themselves, and one of their major reasons for doing so: to get the hell away from Mom and Dad!

Cripes, what's the biggest reason most of my classmates chose the schools they did, even when -- being in the DC area -- we had some of the most prestigious and excellent schools all within an hour's drive? To get away from home! School quality? Who cares about that; Mom and Dad say they can afford this place or that one, and this one's an hour from home but that one's six hours. Woo hoo! Six hours away, here I come.

A close-by school, no matter how awesome or cheap, means the parents might have reason to say, "oh, then you don't need to live on campus, you can stay here and save money that way." That's an 18-yr old's idea of Worst Nightmare.

(And, if parents were being honest, it's probably their idea of Worst Nightmare as well.)

As my prof used to joke: Do you have Powerpoint or (do you have) something to say?
And then there is that 'powerpoint poisoning' phenomenon in Dilbert cartoons.

And, apropos of nothing in particular, Edward Tufte on PowerPoint

I don't much care for this -- blaming PowerPoint is blaming the messenger. If PowerPoint wasn't available, would the presentation have been any different? (Probably not) Were there ghasty presentations before PowerPoint? Absolutely.

PowerPoint may make it easier to give a bad presentation, but so do word processors, but I don't hear them decried.

Well, I have a few bad things to say about word processors too (especially the copy/paste function). On average I have found stuff written originally by hand to be superior to things written using a word processor (mixed signals on typewriters). I am a great proponent of the maxim that what can be done by hand should be done by hand and programming someting yourself is superior do using a prefabricated program (at least in a learning environment). Although it puts the burden of deciphering on the teacher/assistant, students tend to do better when they are stripped of the electronic crutches because they are forced to think for themselves. In my experience writing by hand is also faster (sometimes even if the time for the later fair copy on the computer is included).
The point that Powerpoint makes it easier to give bad presentations is imo the important thing. If it is not available there has to be concentration on the central topic with far less ability to digress (or to make it boring by slavishly reading from the slides). A bad presenter will rarely improve using PP but I know many that worsen using it. I would include myself there and that is me who never uses any special effects and as little colour as possible.

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