Open Source Education

“By the late 2000s, McNealy had become certain the open source model could have a gigantic impact on primary school, secondary school, and college education.  He funded and helped promote a project called Curriki to create open-source textbooks.  Thousands of educators contribute to these online textbooks, which will ultimately be free via the Internet to students and school districts–a development that could undermine traditional textbook publishing the way encyclopedia publishing.  …

Basically, all four-year, professional-grade colleges and universities sit at the high-fidelity end of education.  At the top of the fidelity axis are Harvard, Yale, Stanford (AND UCLA BIAAATCH)–the elite schools.  They are fantastically expensive and exclusive, situated on beautiful campuses, each sporting a powerful aura and imparting to its students a valuable identity.  Other highly selective universities are grouped together around the high-fidelty end.  Public universities are usually a little more convenient (they cost less and let in more applicants), but offer a little less fidelity (not quite the same aura and identity).  Still, every option in the bucket of four-year, professional-grade higher education lands high up on the fidelity axis.  And, like a lot of things that are very high-fidelity, higher education is very inconvenient.  It costs a lot, it’s difficult to get in, and you have to move there and live in a tiny dorm room with someone you’ve never met.

But if most of higher education is high-fidelity, is there nothing out at the high-convenience end?  Currently there exists no higher-education version of MP3 music files–no way to get a good-enough bachelor’s or master’s degree that’s accepted by professional managers, yet do it in a way that’s cheap, easy, and convenient.  This is a terrible imbalance.  The logic of the fidelity/convenience trade-off is seriously out of balance.  …

For centuries the university model dominated because nothing else effectively worked.  No technology existed that might deliver an interactive, engaging education experience without gathering students and teachers in the same physical space.  In the past century, a powerful social bias set in: only accredited universities were allowed to grant degrees, and most professional jobs required an accredited degree. Even though technology has emerged that might allow for new models of higher education, that neat accreditation ecosystem has locked out innovative competitors.  As Ted Leonsis told me, Google could easily rock the higher-education universe by hiring one hundred of the best professors in the world and setting up an Internet-only university funded entirely by advertising–making it free to students.  The only problem is that a Google University would have to get accredited by the Higher Learning Commision, which is basically run by and is a part of the traditional higher-education community.  In fact, on the commission’s website is a warning against interloping competitors: “You should be hat there is a proliferation of online institutions that are either unaccredited or are accredited by agencies that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.”

These days, broadband Internet, video games, social networks, and other developments could combine to create an online, inexpensive, super-convenient model for higher education.  You wouldn’t get the sights and sounds of a campus, the personal contact with professors, or beer-soaked frat parties, but you’d end up with the knowledge you need and the degree to prove it.  …

The Harvards of the world won’t go away.  They will continue to be the high-fidelity players on the fidelity/convenience trade-off.  But a large swath of the population might decide that going deep into debt before even going to work is too high a price to pay for a high-fidelity education, when a more convenient version will do.  Just as surely as many consumers left behind long0standing small-town stores and rushed to Wal-Mart, many students may decide to put aside a four-year stint at a traditional university for a cheap, easy, and good-enough degree delivered through laptop screens and smart phones.”

From Trade-Off, by Kevin Maney

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2 thoughts on “Open Source Education

  1. First of all, I don’t know ANYONE who was accepted to Harvard and complained about it being “inconvenient.”

    Secondle, I’m sorry, but I hope Maney’s god-awful vision is one that never, EVER materializes. He’s trivializing the legacy of universities (UCLA biatch) and idiosyncrasies of professors; the idea of Google University literally made me cringe.

    If you ever take your ‘traditional higher-education’ for granted, watch this doc and be glad you’re not one of these sorry suckers…

    • Yea I feelLLLL, I think it is a double-edged sword and really debatable (and apparently debated). I feel like there really are people who genuinely can’t afford the prestige of a four-year, much less afford to live in a demographic that is conducive to churning out students that are prepared for college. Have you seen “Waiting for Superman”? It talks about how fucked some school systems are and how some people are genuinely stuck.

      I don’t think an online degree would ever compare to Harvard or UCLA, but I hope it someday is at least perceived better than one from a community college.

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