Building The Digital University

Aug 30 2012 @ 8:22am

Kevin Carey reports on online education efforts:

Instead of trying to directly challenge American colleges—a daunting proposition, given the political power and public subsidies they possess—the new breed of tech start-ups will likely start by working in the unregulated private sector, where they’ll build what amounts to a parallel higher education universe. … At a certain point, probably before this decade is out, that parallel universe will reach a point of sophistication and credibility where the degrees—or whatever new word is invented to mean “evidence of your skills and knowledge”—it grants are taken seriously by employers.

The online learning environments will be good enough, and access to broadband Internet wide enough, that you won’t need to be a math prodigy like Eren Bali to learn, get a credential, and attract the attention of global employers. Companies like OpenStudy, Kno, Quizlet, Chegg, Inigral, and Degreed will provide all manner of supportive services—study groups, e-books, flash cards, course notes, college-focused social networking, and many other fabulous, as-yet-un-invented things. Bali isn’t just the model of the new ed tech entrepreneur—he’s the new global student, too, finally able to transcend the happenstance of where he was born.

Robert Wyllie and Steven Knepper, on the other hand, critique online learning and point to the deeper meaning of face-to-face classroom exchanges:

Students learn not only from engaging with ideas, but also by engaging each other. In an intimate seminar, discussions of thorny topics—religion, sexuality, race, politics—are dislocating experiences, but also productive ones. Physical presence makes us "feel" ethical growth. Students form communities around texts over the course of the semester, sharing not only disagreements and difficult discussions but also laughs and moments of discovery. In seminars, seldom do you find you change your mind without a change of heart.