Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Zombie Colleges

Bill Bonner of The Daily Reckoning jumps on the autodidactic bandwagon in An Alternative to the High Cost of College Tuition:
Outside of government itself, America’s universities probably shelter more zombies than any other industry. Of course, there are the millions of students who spend some of the best years of their lives doing little or nothing useful – study loads have dropped from an average of 24 hours a week in the ’60s to just 14 hours now. The professors, administrators and hangers-on are even more zombified. The students eventually have to leave this sanctuary and go out into the real world – or the government. The employees stay zombified for life.

Harvard increased its administrative staff by 300% since 1993. And the typical professor at an Ivy League university now takes a sabbatical every three years, rather than every 7 as the word implies. And according to The Economist, 20 of Harvard’s 48 history professors are on leave this year.

Come to think of it, we don’t know why they bother to teach history at a university. Anyone can read it on his own. And if you want to know what the professor thinks, just buy his book. You can get it for…what, $29?
There's a pervasive belief that the best model for education involves a lecturer at the head of a classroom. I believe the ancients had a better model: Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle. Why should we provide any less? It seems to me that homeschoolers are on the cutting edge of this societal evolution. They are empowered by tools and technology that allow them to become the expert tutors in a wide range of subjects.

At the college level, MIT is leading the way with their OpenCourseWare initiative. The website says it all: "free lecture notes, exams, and videos from MIT." If you want a sheepskin, you'll still have to pay for that. Eventually, academia will realize that undergraduate calculus courses are more effective taught by a dynamic lecturer via YouTube than they are when led by grad student who's still learning English. Then they'll figure out that some professors are much better lecturers than others and those professors will get their own YouTube channels. Soon, the university will find it has a lot of research professors, but very few lecturers. This is the path to improving the quality of a university degree and, indeed, America's knowledge workforce.

It's also a necessary step if you want to provide a Harvard-quality education to every poverty stricken inner city teenager.... unless, of course, you're one of those academics destined for the dustbin of history. And, if you are one of those academics, how can you live with yourself knowing that your bank account is fueled at the expense of an impoverish teen's enlightenment?

1 comment:

Van Harvey said...

"...if you are one of those academics, how can you live with yourself knowing that your bank account is fueled at the expense of an impoverish teen's enlightenment?"

Lol... that's a keeper!

And when the real teachers figure out that they can offer their time & skills across the 'net in the same way that actors & athletes' do... for a very small price to a whole lot of people... doing what they love without administrators interfering & states mandating... I believe we'll suddenly see Educator's who are fully behind the free market system.

(I'm working on the software as fast as I can)