Tom Slee’s Self-Assessment

by Henry Farrell on January 7, 2013

“Tom Slee”:

The first half of that 15 years was spent writing and studying/researching _No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart._ Whimsley started off as an attempt to promote the book, but soon moved into technology & politics, where it has stayed ever since. The total cost of this writing project to me and my family is now well into six figures in foregone income: several years ago I “negotiated” a four-day working week, largely to pursue this project. On the other hand, it has to coexist with a nearly-full-time job, which means that although much of what I write has a pseudo-academic bent, I doubt that I’m in a position to obtain qualifications relevant to what I write about. … That is not a picture of success, and given the generous support I have received, the responsibility for remaining mistakes clearly lies, as they say, with the author. My major reward from blogging has been to discover a small but select group of very smart people who have continued to read this blog, promote it from time to time, and engage in conversation. Thanks to each of you.

… writing to have an impact at the age of 53 feels very different from writing at the age of 38, and the numbers make it clear that it’s not working. To reinforce that feeling, the traffic for an individual post at the blog depends hugely on whether some of a small number of individuals link to it: I am still dependent, that is to say, on patronage and on chance, and I have not managed to build an audience of my own to sustain significant interest. I write slowly and infrequently, and usually long pieces. Clearly the style and content of my writing has failed to build a significant audience. … I have no credentials behind what I write, I’m terrible at self-promotion, my networks related to my writing are minimal, and although some pieces have been provocative I am uncomfortable in the culture of quickfire debate that drives much political writing. None of those things is likely to change. If anything, the effort has emphasized to me the importance of credentials

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Shirky, Udacity and the University

by John Holbo on January 7, 2013

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.) [click to continue…]