Very interesting – and long – bloggingheads discussion on the future of higher education in the age of MOOCs – Udacity, Coursera – between Tamar Gendler and Clay Shirky. Shirky’s thesis: Napster got killed but its brief and dramatic algae-bloom of a life changed the ‘story’ of music distribution. No going back. So now we have iTunes and other stuff and record companies don’t look like they once did. Likewise, maybe Udacity isn’t the future, but the ‘story’ changes after recent, dramatic successes. That’s a wishy-washy way for me to put it, but it is one of those ‘the revolution is coming but we can’t know what it will be like yet’ prophecies, which are inherently – and sensibly! but frustratingly! – bet-hedging. Here’s a slightly more concrete way to cash out ‘story’: we tend to operate with notions of the proper form and function of the university that are too closely tied to pictures of the ideal college experience that are, really, too atypical to function as paradigms. ‘We’ meaning pretty much everyone still: academics, our students, their parents. Shirky’s idea is that MOOCs are going to unbundle a lot of stuff. You don’t have to buy the 4-year package to get some learning. It’s pretty obvious there’s more unbundling to come – it’s gonna make buying individual tracks on iTunes seem a minor innovation – and it will put pressure on current higher education’s strong tendency to bundle a lot of functions together to the point of indistinguishability (teaching, research, socialization, credentialing). Beyond that, the success stories about these MOOC’s are going to shift our sense of what is ‘normal’ to such a degree that there will be no going back. It has a lot to do with how previously under-served populations will inevitably be much better served; that’s going to become too obvious for old ways of doing it to continue to seem at the center of higher education. (Now I’m back to being vague, while also sounding radical. Sorry about that. Read Clay’s piece on all this – probably you’ll have to wait for his blog not to be down, which it appears to be at the moment.)
I talked about this stuff a few months ago. Clay showed up in comments and we chatted a bit. (I also know Tamar Gendler, slightly – full disclosure of my social network!) I think I pretty much agree with what Clay is arguing in his piece. Do you?
In other news, right after reading Chris’s post about self-consistency I stumbled on a paragraph from G.K. Chesterton, pining for the good old days, when men were men – or rather, they weren’t. More than one of them. When men were a man each, or even fewer. (The occasion is scholarly doubts about single-authorship of Old Testament works. But you would have figured that out.)
Believe then, if you will, that the prologue of Job and the epilogue and the speech of Elihu are things inserted after the original work was composed. But do not suppose that such insertions have that obvious and spurious character which would belong to any insertions in a modern individualistic book. Do not regard the insertions as you would regard a chapter in George Meredith which you afterwards found had not been written by George Meredith, or half a scene in Ibsen which you found had been cunningly sneaked in by Mr. William Archer. Remember that this old world which made these old poems like the Iliad and Job, always kept the tradition of what it was making. A man could almost leave a poem to his son to be finished as he would have finished it, just as a man could leave a field to his son, to be reaped as he would have reaped it. What is called Homeric unity may be a fact or not. The Iliad may have been written by one man. It may have been written by a hundred men. But let us remember that there was more unity in those times in a hundred men than there is unity now in one man. Then a city was like one man. Now one man is like a city in civil war.
I do adore Chesterton’s gift for madness that feigns common sense, protesting madness. (I got the essay from an anthology – a nice one – titled In Defense of Sanity. Highly recommended, on Kindle or dead trees.) Discuss!
Probably this could have been two posts.