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Teachers in the same room as you.

I’m reading a lot of Anya Kamenetz these days. The author of Edupunks, and now a frequent columnist in the NYT Education section these days, she’s big on alternative paths to a college degree or equivalency. On the site today, I’ve read two articles: “Are you Competent? Prove It” and “For Profit and People“. (I read other things by other people, like an article about how Stanford and Princeton are worried about their humanities departments) Anyway, both of her articles make much about the concerns about the cost of a traditional four-year college degree, and are heavy on the terms “student-centered”, “value”, “assessment” and (my least favorite)- “outcomes”.

I’m definitely for  education disruption. Four+ years doing 3-credit courses at a bricks and mortar campus is not for everyone, and it’s sometimes financially impossible. However, it is what’s best for the majority of first time college students. Even Ms. Kamanetz has to include quotes like this one from Professor Amy E. Slaton of Drexel University,

“It’s a red flag to me, the idea that this is going to be more personalized, more flexible, more accountable to the consumer,” she says. “If you are from a lower socioeconomic status, you have this new option that appears to cost less than a traditional bachelor’s degree, but it’s not the same product. I see it as a really diminished higher education experience for less money, and yet disguised as this notion of greater access.”

I’m inclined to agree, and express my concern. You won’t find one professor anywhere that doesn’t encourage hybrid learning- using web video, external sources, sharing documents and presentations from other schools (I do that a lot, and appreciate faculty who post their ppts and other sources), and in my case, the large community of open-source coders who post code on reddit, github, arduino forums and the like. Teachers like additional information like they like libraries. Nothing is taught in a vacuum, and free is good.

Here’s what is not going anywhere: distributed information, and most of it free. If you are motivated, you can do an entire electrical engineering degree on line, for free, and you will be a self-taught engineer. But you could have done that before, at any decent public library, with textbooks, periodicals and inter-library loan. There are lots  of self-taught engineers out there, perhaps without the license or degree but with all of the knowledge and capability (I’m lucky to know quite a few in the maker community..I worship these people who have taught me so much, and so humbly).

But how many do that? How many students do not need real teachers in the room?

I’ll be continuing this post later this week.

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