Those in the mood for serious reading about the prospective impact of technology upon higher education should check out this article in The Washington Monthly by noted researcher and writer Kevin Carey, currently the director of the Education Policy program at the New America Foundation.
The piece is a nice antidote to the staccato punch lines of most commentary found on the Web these days (including here). It's longer, thoughtful, and incisive. The author goes to the Silicon Valley and hangs out with the budding entrepreneurs who hope to revolutionize higher ed. These individuals are young, for the most part, extremely bright, and focused on launching a comparable breakthrough to what Wal-Mart and Craigslist performed for retail and Facebook accomplished for social networking.
It's all about finding the new platform:
In fact, if one word defines the dialogue of my trip to the valley, it is “platform.” Investors want to put their money in platforms, and start-ups want to build platforms, because right now, and for the foreseeable future, platforms rule the world.There is too much good stuff in the piece to choose other passages. Please read the whole thing.
Some thoughts: The author is quick to point out that predicting the market with any exactitude is impossible. History is replete with examples of lofty dreams that never materialize, such as the flying cars we were supposed to be piloting soon back in the 50s. On the other hand, the sheer amount of money, intellectual capital, and human effort now being expended to transform higher education is impressive.
As for community colleges, they somehow don't play much of a role in such discussions, including this particular article. If you think about it, however, two-year schools emerged because they were closer, faster, and cheaper than universities and trade schools. We were the new platform, back in the day.
At some point our society must grasp the raw fact that pedagogy isn't about getting access to information. Information has been out there for a long time, in libraries, for instance—another innovative platform that developed out of necessity. Among other characteristics, teaching and learning are about preparing students for a meaningful and successful life, which requires hard work, personal responsibility, and concentration.
The ideas discussed in the article are commercial ventures. But teachers place demands upon students. When was the last time you heard a commercial advertisement say, "It's demanding!"
New software enabling students to share class notes more expeditiously, for example, may be exactly the opposite of the type of innovation we should encourage. To be faster, closer, and cheaper doesn't always have to be easier. Nor should it.