Are we paying for an institution or an education when we attend college?
This query is growing in light of educational concepts such as TED, Khan Academy, technologies such as the iPad and better online access and instruction, and powerful oratories on change, including Seth Godin’s self-proclaimed manifesto on education called Stop Stealing Dreams. Almost daily now, the “norm” for education is considered questionable at best, antiquated at the least.
It has been easy to go after K-12 instruction: No Child Left Behind and standardized test failure issues are like shooting into a bucket at point blank range, but thanks to increased and improving online instruction and academic uses of technology plus allegations of grade inflation and rising college costs in the last ten to fifteen years, the post-secondary approach to education is now also falling into increased scrutiny.
MIT and Stanford have not made the criticisms easier: Take Stanford’s latest approach to education, in which Sebastian Thrun collaborated with another professor turned Google director of research (Peter Norvig) and put a course on artificial intelligence online for anyone to take. Although one could only get a certificate for the course, 20,000 students took the midterm and are doing weekly assignments.
For further reading of Stanford’s approach: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/ff_aiclass/all/1
Okay, let’s quickly make this clear: 20,000 students took the midterm and are completing weekly assignments for a course that does not count toward a degree or for Stanford credit whatsoever. Apparently, it is clear these students took this class because they wanted to learn something, but for whatever reason felt constrained by the current system. It might have to do with someone wishing to see if they could handle a Stanford course, or for the many throngs of us who did not come close to meeting the minimum admission standard.
Godin states in his online book (section #116) that colleges are in the same state as the newspaper industry was ten years ago: “They (journalism executives) were blithely ignorant of how Craigslist would wipe out the vast majority of their profits. They were disdainful of digital delivery. They were in love with the magic of paper. In just ten years, it all changed…after a hundred years of stability, the core business model of the newspaper is gone.”
Godin then shifted to the current university system: “Schools are facing the giant crash of education loans and the inability of the typical student to justify a full-fare education. It will be just a few years after most courses are available digitally—maybe not from the school itself, but calculus is calculus. At that point, either schools will be labels, brand names that connote something to a hiring manager, or they will be tribal organizers, institutions that create teams, connections, and guilds.”
I have longed felt that universities have overextended themselves. Too many classes are taken yet most of the important knowledge has been gained via internships, apprenticeships, and other real-world training exercises. Keep in mind that I went straight into teaching from journalism: I did not have one education class when I started at Van Buren Middle School in Albuquerque in the fall of 1991.
The only thing I had was desire and the memory of what worked for my teachers. I was also blessed by a principal who believed I had the talent (Gary Hocevar) and he promptly surrounded me with veteran teachers. I learned on the fly. I still had to take classes, but the classes made more sense while on the job than if I had taken them in isolation. I was quickly able to throw away the useless and the ridiculous.
Thanks to Stanford, MIT, TED, and well developed online classes, it is increasing obvious to people seeking a real and meaningful education that there are too many useless and ridiculous things about the post-secondary environment (for example, most adult learners past 25 really do not care or have time for fraternities and sororities or other social settings the 18-21 year old might yearn for, and also do not have the resource to potential waste on pre-requisites that often are not pre-requisites but fill university belief systems).
In recent courses at Boise State, I have learned about the push toward more real-world instruction in education and how powerful learning comes from practical application. Artificial intelligence and how it can be used in the world is a rapidly growing concept, and those in the field cannot wait for a chance to apply for school and for financial aid or for an opening in the course. They need or want a fresh and/or new approach now, and Stanford provided one.
There are also apparently a large number of people who love to learn simply because of the love of education, but again are willing to exclude the name of an institution, and the costs, and take a class for free.
This will not work across the board (I hope to discuss this later this spring), as we have way too many students who do not possess with the ability and/or the skills to be independent learners and need the structure colleges can provide. However, it is time to rethink what is required to get an undergraduate and graduate degree. Let’s cut the extraneous and focus more on real-time and real-world application.
Again the question: Are four years really needed, or are students simply paying for a system, instead of an education?