College, Reinvented: The Finalists
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When we invited readers to imagine what kind of college they would create if they could start one from scratch, we weren’t sure what to expect. Sure enough, the scores of entries we received—from professors, administrators, and undergraduate students, well-known leaders in higher-education and interested bystanders—ran the gamut.
Some entries were abstract and idealistic; others offered as many details about budgets and curricula as could fit in our 500-word limit. Most were prose descriptions, but we received two videos and quite a few poems. You pick the winning entry, by voting below.
In about two weeks, we’ll announce the winner and reveal the identities of the five finalists.
I model my proposed college after a law firm. Just as senior lawyers own the firm and delegate various administrative responsibilities, I would have a college where faculty own the institution, and administrators work for faculty, rather than vice versa.
Like Costco stores, my Costco University would keep costs down by stinting on everything other than what matters: delivery of relevant services to the end user. (No, students aren’t customers, even if they are paying the bills.)
Thus, institutional infrastructure is to be avoided, with savings passed along to the students. Dining halls, residence halls, athletics programs, even libraries are unnecessary, provided that the campus is in a big city, and students have access to the Internet. Ideally, costs could be kept sufficiently low that tuition would cover everything. So that this makes economic sense, assume that each professor makes $80,000 a year and teaches four courses per semester, or eight courses a year. With typical overhead, each course costs $20,000 a year to teach.
If 10 students take each course, each needs to pay $2,000 a course. At four courses a semester, or eight courses a year, tuition could be $16,000 a year. OK, maybe the cost of classroom rental is extra—everything is rented. A generous estimate of the cost of classroom rental is $50 an hour, or $5 per hour per student, amounting to about $225 per student for 45-classroom-hour course.
Students might have to pay, say, a $4,000 administrative fee, bringing their tuition to $20,000 a year. (Sorry, no scholarships are possible with this arrangement.).
A major strength of the existing model of higher education is its combination of research and teaching. A sister institution, Costco Research and Development, might be created to generate revenue by allowing Costco U professors a vehicle for creating intellectual property. The most obvious model here is the Stanford Research Institute, which does contract research in science and technology.
However, Costco U. humanities professors will also be encouraged to generate revenue by creating, for example, MOOC course content. While both Costco U. and Costco Research must remain separate, half-time appointments in each, or other forms of close cooperation, will be encouraged. Indeed, certain courses at Costco U. could involve internships at Costco Research.
If the entrepreneur Peter Thiel is willing to provide funds to people not to go to college, perhaps he, or someone like him, would be willing to spring for the necessary start-up money. Founding faculty members would then buy into the partnership, just as new law-firm partners do.
Perhaps leading universities, too, would buy into the Costco U. concept. Since they are blessed with many more qualified candidates for both students and faculty than they can possibly handle, perhaps Costco U. could be composed entirely of such candidates, without any further effort at selection
Let’s Go Monk! The 21st-Century Monastery, Reinvented
In most discussions about reforming higher education, intellectuals argue about how to move us forward into the 21st century. With all due respect, I disagree. I would move higher education backward. In my reinvented university, we go back about 800 years. We become monks.
Instead of attracting visitors, this university would frighten away prospective students with strict vows of poverty, charity, and abstinence from social media. College is not for wimps. Upon entry, students don identical robes woven from the same fabric as sweatpants (decorative belts are permitted.) All mobile devices, including laptops and iPads, are confiscated at the gatehouse and may be reclaimed by their owners only upon going into town to buy toothpaste. All intracollege communication takes place with quill, ink, and parchment; calligraphy is the new cursive.
Academically, the co-ed university enrolls students in single-sex classes no larger than 15. The academic year is 12 months, as is the calendar year for the rest of the planet, with two six-week vacations and two months spent in a foreign country.
Throughout the year, the university pursues multidisciplinary answers to one Big Question, such as the clean-water crisis, peace in the Middle East, or how to fix American public education. When parents ask, “What are you doing with that education?,” these students answer, “Saving the world.”
The curriculum is set for the first two years. All students take the same foundational courses in philosophy, world religion, the Great Books as defined by Mortimer Adler, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and the history of China, Russia, India, and Britain. In addition, students must study Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, or Hindi. In order to save the world, you have to be able to know who’s in it.
The third year matches each student with a faculty mentor who guides him or her through a multidisciplinary capstone project. This provides ample opportunity for students to collect “when my professor came in wearing her pajamas” stories and to develop their research skills. It is common during this year to begin working at the college-owned vineyard or brewery, for self-evident reasons.
Students are forbidden, upon risk of expulsion, to create résumés or start the job search until the fourth year. During that year, students leave the university and the robes for full-time internships with alumnae. They are, however, required to wear capes to remind them that their purpose in life is to (remember?) save the world.
In addition to growing wine and making beer, students grow and cook all of their own food. This lowers tuition costs and complaints about the quality of cafeteria food. When they’re not studying or cooking, students chill out in one of the many dance halls on campus. Most of those come with disco balls and repetitions of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” although there is a Regency-era ballroom where students dance as the characters do in Jane Austen.
They might be monks, but they’re well-educated monks. Who’s with me?
College of the Global Village
With an emphasis on experiential learning through a multidisciplinary investigation of varied meanings and practices of the good life; an immersion into the experience of new languages, including those of literature, the visual and performing arts, and the STEM disciplines; and the acquisition of an additional spoken and written language through living and learning in a culture where that language is primary, it is the objective of the College of the Global Village, through disciplined engagement, to strive to refocus learning on depth of experience rather than breadth of knowledge.
Through a first year in which students participate in four immersive blocks of study, each eight weeks long, College of the Global Village requires all students to participate in a course of research and writing in which everyone is expected to construct meaning and to create knowledge rather than being mere receptacles of previously digested information.
Through a topic of one’s choice from the arts and humanities or a STEM discipline, students will be matched with experts in their chosen field, including those from academia as well as nonteaching professionals with whom students collaborate on a research-and-writing project that enables them to explore both the process of deep research and the complexities of ideas leading to the written work they will produce.
A second required block is “The History of Science and Ecology,” in which students learn the principles of those disciplines through field study of the relationship between the allocations and usage of resources in their college community and local economy.
A third block is devoted to engagement with great books, in which students converse with authors and their characters about the moral choices they faced and the implications of these choices in both the texts and the life experiences of the students.
The year concludes with a language-immersion experience in a part of the world that is unfamiliar to the student, engaging awareness of self and others through navigation of territory beyond the boundaries of his or her experience.
During the second and third years at the College of the Global Village, all students are asked to fulfill eight additional learning blocks, through choices of multidisciplinary courses such as “A Guided Inquiry Into the Role of Museums and Concert Halls in Civil Society” and “The Transformation of the World From Nation-States to Global Networks.” The emphasis of those and additional offerings is to enable the students to develop practical applications of their learning in a context greater than a single classroom affords.
The fourth year is spent in a guided internship overseen by a professor or community leader, which includes a weekly integrative seminar with all students in their internships, to share their diverse learning experiences.
The Mobile University
Higher education offers students the opportunity to find out who they are, what they do not know, and some insight into as many as two or three subject areas. If a university or college pretends to do more, then it is probably guilty of misleading marketing. One way of achieving those three goals is setting up a four-year “mobile college,” whose “home” is defined not by place but by just four faculty mentors—one each in the social sciences, the humanities, the sciences, and the arts—who move from institution to institution over four years with a cohort consisting of no more than 40 students.
The best way to help students discover who they are is to take them abroad, put them into a foreign environment, and expose them to how the “other” sees them and their nation. Their first-year curriculum is the liberal arts.
In the second year students are placed, by agreement, in an American college or university that offers top-quality faculty and curriculum in the social sciences, where they also continue to study the language of the place where they spent their first year. The second-year focus is on the meaning of citizenship in a democratic society, studied in interdisciplinary fashion.
In their third year, students are placed in an American college or university staffed by outstanding faculty in the sciences and the humanities. They continue studying the second language.
In their final year, the students return to complete their studies at a university in the same nation where they began their studies. They become proficient in that second language and demonstrate a high level of expertise in one or more subject areas, and very likely demonstrate some interdisciplinary expertise.
This approach makes use of existing institutions of higher education, relying on carefully designed articulation agreements between the mobile college and the institutions visited by the students. Each of the four faculty members is dedicated to outstanding teaching and mentorship, and each is paid $25,000 per year, plus room, board, and travel expenses. One of the faculty members earns an additional stipend of $25,000 for arranging articulation agreements and for handling travel and accommodations. A rough cost estimate of four years for the mobile college is $1.5-million, comprising a comprehensive fee for each of the 40 students of about $37,500. Host institutions in the United States should provide some aid, or reduced tuition costs equal to their average discount.
The mobile college’s success depends on selecting outstanding faculty mentors, along with international institutions whose tuition charges are subsidized by their governments and domestic institutions eager to add adventuresome students at a discounted rate; identifying 40 intellectually focused and risk-loving students who will agree to a legally binding, four-year contract (dropping out is not an option); getting accreditation; and probably raising some private support for a number of financially challenged students.
Inspiration is paramount in survival situations,
To continually push hard, and exude dedication,
To observe and recite precise information,
The reason we pursue a higher education.
If we’re starting from scratch then it should be noted first,
Current universities have been well executed,
But what more could we do, to describe and enhance,
Reinvent university with precision diligence.
For starters, diversity is key for excitement,
As this university is made to share cultures and stories,
No black or white issues where race is divided,
This is open to the world, and everyone is invited.
And we’re living in the future, so the future is embraced,
All science departments and green studies take place,
If there is ever a problem, our students won’t sweat it,
Next week for finals, our students will invent it!
Of course there are issues of payment and tuition,
Which current institutions seem to abuse and get away with.
Our solution is simple: Just pay when you can,
Since we have faith in your future, your debt is the least of our cares.
Or better yet, you can work off your dues,
As you can teach classes to your classmates, too!
Innovative options will keep our university alive,
As students stay focused, successful, and thrive!
No fee hikes, increases, or surprise bill inflation,
As our admins are alumni in cooperative education,
All working together for one common goal,
The benefits of volunteering, until the next student body gets old!
Emphasis on technology, creating, and sharing,
A “World’s Fair” style nirvana and utopian place,
It’s possible this style has been tried already,
But our university will excel in awareness.
In survival situations, remember inspiration
But the Reinvention of University? Please, without hesitation—
Diversity, technology, and emphasis on innovation!
We’re ready and waiting for your application!
Table of Contents
PART I: Motivations
Chapter 1 How a Class Becomes a Community: Theory, Method, Examples…Cathy N. Davidson
Chapter 2 From Open Programming to Open Learning: The Cathedral, the Bazaar, and the Open Classroom…Barry Peddycord III, Elizabeth A. Pitts
Chapter 3 Practicing Web Wisdom: Mindfully Incorporating Digital Literacies into the Classroom…Patrick Thomas Morgan
PART II: Provocations
Chapter 4 Paying Attention to the Chocolate-Covered Broccoli: How Video Games Can Change the Ways You Understand Teaching, Learning, and Knowledge…Cristiane Sommer Damasceno
Chapter 5 The Medium of the 21st Century Is Light…Jade Davis
Chapter 6 Open for Whom?: Designing for Inclusion, Navigating the Digital Divide…Christina C. Davidson
PART III: Invitations
Chapter 7 #EveryDayDesign: What Do 21st Century Digital Literacies Look Like?…Jennifer Stratton
Chapter 8 Surprise Endings: Putting the Lessons into Action…Omar Daouk
The Mozilla Manifesto
Creative Commons License
(Mostly) Digital Tool Kit for Open Peer Teaching and Learning
Mozilla – The Mozilla Manifesto
The Mozilla project is a global community of people who believe that openness, innovation, and opportunity are key to the continued health of the Internet. We have worked together since 1998 to ensure that the Internet is developed in a way that benefits everyone. We are best known for creating the Mozilla Firefox web browser.
The Mozilla project uses a community-based approach to create world-class open source software and to develop new types of collaborative activities. We create communities of people involved in making the Internet experience better for all of us.
As a result of these efforts, we have distilled a set of principles that we believe are critical for the Internet to continue to benefit the public good as well as commercial aspects of life. We set out these principles below.
The goals for the Manifesto are to:
- articulate a vision for the Internet that Mozilla participants want the Mozilla Foundation to pursue;
- speak to people whether or not they have a technical background;
- make Mozilla contributors proud of what we’re doing and motivate us to continue; and
- provide a framework for other people to advance this vision of the Internet.
These principles will not come to life on their own. People are needed to make the Internet open and participatory – people acting as individuals, working together in groups, and leading others. The Mozilla Foundation is committed to advancing the principles set out in the Mozilla Manifesto. We invite others to join us and make the Internet an ever better place for everyone.
- The Internet is an integral part of modern life—a key component in education, communication, collaboration, business, entertainment and society as a whole.
- The Internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible.
- The Internet should enrich the lives of individual human beings.
- Individuals’ security on the Internet is fundamental and cannot be treated as optional.
- Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet.
- The effectiveness of the Internet as a public resource depends upon interoperability (protocols, data formats, content), innovation and decentralized participation worldwide.
- Free and open source software promotes the development of the Internet as a public resource.
- Transparent community-based processes promote participation, accountability, and trust.
- Commercial involvement in the development of the Internet brings many benefits; a balance between commercial goals and public benefit is critical.
- Magnifying the public benefit aspects of the Internet is an important goal, worthy of time, attention and commitment.
Advancing the Mozilla Manifesto
There are many different ways of advancing the principles of the Mozilla Manifesto. We welcome a broad range of activities, and anticipate the same creativity that Mozilla participants have shown in other areas of the project. For individuals not deeply involved in the Mozilla project, one basic and very effective way to support the Manifesto is to use Mozilla Firefox and other products that embody the principles of the Manifesto.
Mozilla Foundation Pledge
The Mozilla Foundation pledges to support the Mozilla Manifesto in its activities. Specifically, we will:
- build and enable open-source technologies and communities that support the Manifesto’s principles;
- build and deliver great consumer products that support the Manifesto’s principles;
- use the Mozilla assets (intellectual property such as copyrights and trademarks, infrastructure, funds, and reputation) to keep the Internet an open platform;
- promote models for creating economic value for the public benefit; and
- promote the Mozilla Manifesto principles in public discourse and within the Internet industry.
Some Foundation activities—currently the creation, delivery and promotion of consumer products—are conducted primarily through the Mozilla Foundation’s wholly owned subsidiary, the Mozilla Corporation.
The Mozilla Foundation invites all others who support the principles of the Mozilla Manifesto to join with us, and to find new ways to make this vision of the Internet a reality.
Four Ways to Improve the Culture of CommentingBy MICHAEL ERARD
In my Riff for this past weekend’s magazine, I write about the history of online comments and how they came to often take such an off-putting form. Here are some things we could adopt to help build a better commenting environment:
User-driven moderating: Create more robust systems of user moderation and teach people how you want them to participate online by training and rewarding them. The best argument for this comes from economics, specifically the work of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom, who showed that commonly held resources (like fishing grounds or groundwater) are more sustainably managed by communities of users, instead of by government agencies or the marketplace.
I often find that the problem with comments isn’t that they’re offensive or off-topic; it’s that they’ve distracted me with irrelevant information or told me what I already knew. (Yes, some people don’t like Obama.) I wish I could flag a comment or even a whole thread as a waste of time for other readers. The tragedy of the comments is a tragedy of the commons, because the unreplenishable resource that has been overexploited when comment threads go awry is the finite amount of attention that we have to spend reading. Any individual commenter is simply doing what the system encourages him to do; in aggregate, however, all of these decisions eat away at the attention.
“You have time to create something beautiful. You have time to read the comments sections. You do not have time to read both,” Shane Liesegang tweeted (@avoidcomments). I’m not comfortable with eschewing comments altogether, because I assume that the expertise that finds its way into bylined articles in the newspaper is a small subset of the expertise that exists in the world. If the comments section enables a larger amount of the expertise to reach a wider audience, then I’m all for it.
There’s still a problem, though: How do you know where to go for comments that are worth reading? That leads to the next improvement:
Commenting weather systems: One of the tools that’s used to analyze Twitter and other social media is called sentiment analysis. This is a machine-based method of measuring the emotional dimensions of what people say. Computers analyze huge chunks of language that people use when talking about products, institutions, events and other things, and then they extract how people feel, either negatively or positively, about those things. Someone should create an Internet-wide sentiment-analysis system that would track, in real time, the commenting “weather” on various participating Web sites. Positively oriented threads are good weather and negatively oriented ones are inclement, however “positive” and “negative” are defined. Publications could even provide a view of the commenting weather within their own sites. It’s in their interest to do this sort of thing, especially if they’re investing in human moderation and filtering algorithms. If those tools are improving the level of discourse but no one knows that, what’s the point? This could also lead to a culture of rhetorical storm-chasers, people who flock to virulent comment threads and report back to calmer parts of the world.
A commenting weather system would promote another development:
Connoisseurship: Increasingly, when people recommend an article to their friends, they also note the quality of the comments, and indicate that a particular flavor of a comment thread is the reason to go to — or avoid — related content. You might have already seen this happening informally. I see it all the time on Facebook.
This sort of connoisseurship should be encouraged to grow around the culture of commenting, and it should start with awards: a Pulitzer Prize or something similarly prestigious given to comment threads, with the award shared equally among the commenters, the moderators, the writer and the publication. The entire content + comments, as well as a moderation log, would be submitted as a package, so that judges could see the quality of the article, the value added by the comments and the decisions that moderators made about curating the comments.
In order to foster connoisseurship, another tool is needed:
Searchable comments: There’s no better indication of the hierarchy of content on the Web than the fact that comment threads are generally not searchable. For this blog post, I wanted to mention a remarkable comment that accompanied a photo-driven story in Boston Magazine about the capture of the marathon bomber, but I didn’t have time to search one by one through the more than 3,300 comments. Similarly, I’d love to credit to the person who wrote the pithy statement I quoted in my Riff (“the comments are where the real America is”), but I couldn’t find it again.
Would any of these things change comments? Maybe not all of them. But if the Web is about participation, we could enlist more of the off-line world’s tools to reward good participation — not just gripe about the bad actors.
August 26, 2011
Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age
Kevin Van Aelst for The Chronicle Review
Five or six years ago, I attended a lecture on the science of attention. A philosopher who conducts research over in the medical school was talking about attention blindness, the basic feature of the human brain that, when we concentrate intensely on one task, causes us to miss just about everything else. Because we can’t see what we can’t see, our lecturer was determined to catch us in the act. He had us watch a video of six people tossing basketballs back and forth, three in white shirts and three in black, and our task was to keep track only of the tosses among the people in white. I hadn’t seen the video back then, although it’s now a classic, featured on punk-style TV shows or YouTube versions enacted at frat houses under less than lucid conditions. The tape rolled, and everyone began counting.
Everyone except me. I’m dyslexic, and the moment I saw that grainy tape with the confusing basketball tossers, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep track of their movements, so I let my mind wander. My curiosity was piqued, though, when about 30 seconds into the tape, a gorilla sauntered in among the players. She (we later learned a female student was in the gorilla suit) stared at the camera, thumped her chest, and then strode away while they continued passing the balls.
When the tape stopped, the philosopher asked how many people had counted at least a dozen basketball tosses. Hands went up all over. He then asked who had counted 13, 14, and congratulated those who’d scored the perfect 15. Then he asked, “And who saw the gorilla?”
I raised my hand and was surprised to discover I was the only person at my table and one of only three or four in the large room to do so. He’d set us up, trapping us in our own attention blindness. Yes, there had been a trick, but he wasn’t the one who had played it on us. By concentrating so hard on counting, we had managed to miss the gorilla in the midst.
Attention blindness is the fundamental structuring principle of the brain, and I believe that it presents us with a tremendous opportunity. My take is different from that of many neuroscientists: Where they perceive the shortcomings of the individual, I sense an opportunity for collaboration. Fortunately, given the interactive nature of most of our lives in the digital age, we have the tools to harness our different forms of attention and take advantage of them.
It’s not easy to acknowledge that everything we’ve learned about how to pay attention means that we’ve been missing everything else. It’s not easy for us rational, competent, confident types to admit that the very key to our success—our ability to pinpoint a problem and solve it, an achievement honed in all those years in school and beyond—may be exactly what limits us. For more than a hundred years, we’ve been training people to see in a particularly individual, deliberative way. No one ever told us that our way of seeing excluded everything else.
I want to suggest a different way of seeing, one that’s based on multitasking our attention—not by seeing it all alone but by distributing various parts of the task among others dedicated to the same end. For most of us, this is a new pattern of attention. Multitasking is the ideal mode of the 21st century, not just because of information overload but also because our digital age was structured without anything like a central node broadcasting one stream of information that we pay attention to at a given moment. On the Internet, everything links to everything, and all of it is available all the time.
Unfortunately, current practices of our educational institutions—and workplaces—are a mismatch between the age we live in and the institutions we have built over the last 100-plus years. The 20th century taught us that completing one task before starting another one was the route to success. Everything about 20th-century education, like the 20th-century workplace, has been designed to reinforce our attention to regular, systematic tasks that we take to completion. Attention to task is at the heart of industrial labor management, from the assembly line to the modern office, and of educational philosophy, from grade school to graduate school.
The Newsweek cover story proclaimed, “iPod, Therefore I Am.”
On MTV News, it was “Dude, I just got a free iPod!”
Peter Jennings smirked at the ABC-TV news audience, “Shakespeare on the iPod? Calculus on the iPod?”
And the staff of the Duke Chronicle was apoplectic: “The University seems intent on transforming the iPod into an academic device, when the simple fact of the matter is that iPods are made to listen to music. It is an unnecessarily expensive toy that does not become an academic tool simply because it is thrown into a classroom.”
What had those pundits so riled up? In 2003, we at Duke were approached by Apple about becoming one of six Apple Digital Campuses. Each college would choose a technology that Apple was developing and propose a campus use for it. It would be a partnership of business and education, exploratory in all ways. We chose a flashy new music-listening gadget that young people loved but that baffled most adults.
When we gave a free iPod to every member of the entering first-year class, there were no conditions. We simply asked students to dream up learning applications for this cool little white device with the adorable earbuds, and we invited them to pitch their ideas to the faculty. If one of their professors decided to use iPods in a course, the professor, too, would receive a free Duke-branded iPod, and so would all the students in the class (whether they were first-years or not).
This was an educational experiment without a syllabus. No lesson plan. No assessment matrix rigged to show that our investment had been a wise one. No assignment to count the basketballs. After all, as we knew from the science of attention, to direct attention in one way precluded all the other ways. If it were a reality show, we might have called it Project Classroom Makeover.
At the time, I was vice provost for interdisciplinary studies at Duke, a position equivalent to what in industry would be the R&D person, and I was among those responsible for cooking up the iPod experiment. In the world of technology, “crowdsourcing” means inviting a group to collaborate on a solution to a problem, but that term didn’t yet exist in 2003. It was coined by Jeff Howe of Wired magazine in 2006 to refer to the widespread Internet practice of posting an open call requesting help in completing some task, whether writing code (that’s how much of the open-source code that powers the Mozilla browser was written) or creating a winning logo (like the “Birdie” design of Twitter, which cost a total of six bucks).
In the iPod experiment, we were crowdsourcing educational innovation for a digital age. Crowdsourced thinking is very different from “credentialing,” or relying on top-down expertise. If anything, crowdsourcing is suspicious of expertise, because the more expert we are, the more likely we are to be limited in what we conceive to be the problem, let alone the answer.
Once the pieces were in place, we decided to take our educational experiment one step further. By giving the iPods to first-year students, we ended up with a lot of angry sophomores, juniors, and seniors. They’d paid hefty private-university tuition, too! So we relented and said any student could have a free iPod—just so long as she persuaded a professor to require one for a course and came up with a learning app in that course. Does that sound sneaky? Far be it from me to say that we planned it.
The real treasure trove was to be found in the students’ innovations. Working together, and often alongside their professors, they came up with far more learning apps for their iPods than anyone—even at Apple—had dreamed possible. Most predictable were uses whereby students downloaded audio archives relevant to their courses—Nobel Prize acceptance speeches by physicists and poets, the McCarthy hearings, famous trials. Almost instantly, students figured out that they could record lectures on their iPods and listen at their leisure.
Interconnection was the part the students grasped before any of us did. Students who had grown up connected digitally gravitated to ways that the iPod could be used for collective learning. They turned iPods into social media and networked their learning in ways we did not anticipate. In the School of the Environment, one class interviewed families in a North Carolina community concerned with lead paint in their homes and schools, commented on one another’s interviews, and together created an audio documentary that aired on local and regional radio stations and all over the Web. In the music department, students uploaded their own compositions to their iPods so their fellow students could listen and critique.
After eight years in Duke’s central administration, I was excited to take the methods we had gleaned from the iPod experiment back into the classroom. I decided to offer a new course called “This Is Your Brain on the Internet,” a title that pays homage to Daniel J. Levitin’s inspiring book This Is Your Brain on Music (Dutton, 2006), a kind of music-lover’s guide to the brain. Levitin argues that music makes complex circuits throughout the brain, requiring different kinds of brain function for listening, processing, and producing, and thus makes us think differently. Substitute the word “Internet” for “music,” and you’ve got the gist of my course.
I advertised the class widely, and I was delighted to look over the roster of the 18 students in the seminar and find more than 18 majors, minors, and certificates represented. I created a bare-bones suggested reading list that included, for example, articles in specialized journals like Cognition and Developmental Neuropsychology, pieces in popular magazines like Wired and Science, novels, and memoirs. There were lots of Web sites, too, of course, but I left the rest loose. This class was structured to be peer-led, with student interest and student research driving the design. “Participatory learning” is one term used to describe how we can learn together from one another’s skills. “Cognitive surplus” is another used in the digital world for that “more than the sum of the parts” form of collaborative thinking that happens when groups think together online.
We used a method that I call “collaboration by difference.” Collaboration by difference is an antidote to attention blindness. It signifies that the complex and interconnected problems of our time cannot be solved by anyone alone, and that those who think they can act in an entirely focused, solitary fashion are undoubtedly missing the main point that is right there in front of them, thumping its chest and staring them in the face. Collaboration by difference respects and rewards different forms and levels of expertise, perspective, culture, age, ability, and insight, treating difference not as a deficit but as a point of distinction. It always seems more cumbersome in the short run to seek out divergent and even quirky opinions, but it turns out to be efficient in the end and necessary for success if one seeks an outcome that is unexpected and sustainable. That’s what I was aiming for.
I had the students each contribute a new entry or amend an existing entry on Wikipedia, or find another public forum where they could contribute to public discourse. There was still a lot of criticism about the lack of peer review in Wikipedia entries, and some professors were banning Wikipedia use in the classroom. I didn’t understand that. Wikipedia is an educator’s fantasy, all the world’s knowledge shared voluntarily and free in a format theoretically available to all, and which anyone can edit. Instead of banning it, I challenged my students to use their knowledge to make Wikipedia better. All conceded that it had turned out to be much harder to get their work to “stick” on Wikipedia than it was to write a traditional term paper.
Given that I was teaching a class based on learning and the Internet, having my students blog was a no-brainer. I supplemented that with more traditionally structured academic writing, a term paper. When I had both samples in front of me, I discovered something curious. Their writing online, at least in their blogs, was incomparably better than in the traditional papers. In fact, given all the tripe one hears from pundits about how the Internet dumbs our kids down, I was shocked that elegant bloggers often turned out to be the clunkiest and most pretentious of research-paper writers. Term papers rolled in that were shot through with jargon, stilted diction, poor word choice, rambling thoughts, and even pretentious grammatical errors (such as the ungrammatical but proper-sounding use of “I” instead of “me” as an object of a preposition).
But it got me thinking: What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in college—the term paper—and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process? I hadn’t thought of that until I read my students’ lengthy, weekly blogs and saw the difference in quality. If students are trying to figure out what kind of writing we want in order to get a good grade, communication is secondary. What if “research paper” is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?
Research indicates that, at every age level, people take their writing more seriously when it will be evaluated by peers than when it is to be judged by teachers. Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers. Longitudinal studies of student writers conducted by Stanford University’s Andrea Lunsford, a professor of English, assessed student writing at Stanford year after year. Lunsford surprised everyone with her findings that students were becoming more literate, rhetorically dexterous, and fluent—not less, as many feared. The Internet, she discovered, had allowed them to develop their writing.
The semester flew by, and we went wherever it took us. The objective was to get rid of a lot of the truisms about “the dumbest generation” and actually look at how new theories of the brain and of attention might help us understand how forms of thinking and collaborating online maximize brain activity. We spent a good deal of time thinking about how accident, disruption, distraction, and difference increase the motivation to learn and to solve problems, both individually and collectively. To find examples, we spent time with a dance ensemble rehearsing a new piece, a jazz band improvising together, and teams of surgeons and computer programmers performing robotic surgery. We walked inside a monkey’s brain in a virtual-reality cave. In another virtual-reality environment, we found ourselves trembling, unable to step off what we knew was a two-inch drop, because it looked as if we were on a ledge over a deep canyon.
One of our readings was On Intelligence (Times Books, 2004), a unified theory of the brain written by Jeff Hawkins (the neuroscientist who invented the Palm Pilot) with Sandra Blakeslee. I agree with many of Hawkins’s ideas about the brain’s “memory-prediction framework.” My own interest is in how memories—reinforced behaviors from the past—predict future learning, and in how we can intentionally disrupt that pattern to spark innovation and creativity. Hawkins is interested in how we can use the pattern to create next-generation artificial intelligence that will enhance the performance, and profitability, of computerized gadgets like the Palm Pilot. The students and I had been having a heated debate about his theories when a student discovered that Hawkins happened to be in our area to give a lecture. I was away at a meeting, when suddenly my BlackBerry was vibrating with e-mails and IM’s from my students, who had convened the class without me to present a special guest on a special topic: Jeff Hawkins debating the ideas of Jeff Hawkins. It felt a bit like the gag in the classic Woody Allen movie Annie Hall, when someone in the line to purchase movie tickets is expounding pompously on the ideas of Marshall McLuhan and then McLuhan himself steps into the conversation.
It was that kind of class.
“Jeff Hawkins thought it was odd that we decided to hold class when you weren’t there,” one student texted me. “Why wouldn’t we? That’s how it works in ‘This Is Your Brain on the Internet.'”
Project Classroom Makeover. I heard the pride. “Step aside, Prof Davidson: This is a university!”
“A wacko holding forth on a soapbox. If Prof Davidson just wants to yammer and lead discussions, she should resign her position and head for a park or subway platform, and pass a hat for donations.”
Some days, it’s not easy being Prof Davidson.
What caused the ruckus in the blogosphere this time was a blog I posted on the Hastac, an online network, which I co-founded in 2002, dedicated to new forms of learning for a digital age. The post, “How to Crowdsource Grading,” proposed a form of assessment that I planned to use the next time I taught “This Is Your Brain on the Internet.”
It was my students’ fault, really. By the end of the course, I felt confident. I settled in with their evaluations, waiting for the accolades to flow, a pedagogical shower of appreciation. And mostly that’s what I read, thankfully. But there was one group of students who had some candid feedback, and it took me by surprise. They said everything about the course had been bold, new, and exciting.
Everything, that is, except the grading.
They pointed out that I had used entirely conventional methods for testing and evaluating their work. We had talked as a class about the new modes of assessment on the Internet—like public commenting on products and services and leaderboards (peer evaluations adapted from sports sites)—where the consumer of content could also evaluate that content. These students said they loved the class but were perplexed that my assessment method had been so 20th century: Midterm. Final. Research paper. Graded A, B, C, D. The students were right. You couldn’t get more 20th century than that.
The students signed their names to the course evaluations. It turned out the critics were A+ students. That stopped me in my tracks. If you’re a teacher worth your salt, you pay attention when the A+ students say something is wrong.
I was embarrassed that I had overlooked such a crucial part of our brain on the Internet. I contacted my students and said they’d made me rethink some very old habits. Unlearning. I promised I would rectify my mistake the next time I taught the course. I thought about my promise, came up with what seemed like a good system, then wrote about it in my blog.
My new grading method, which set off such waves of vitriol, combined old-fashioned contract grading with peer review. Contract grading goes back at least to the 1960s. In it, the requirements of a course are laid out in advance, and students contract to do all of the assignments or only some of them. A student with a heavy course or workload who doesn’t need an A, for example, might contract to do everything but the final project and then, according to the contract, she might earn a B. It’s all very adult.
But I also wanted some quality control. So I added the crowdsourcing component based on the way I had already structured the course. I thought that since pairs of students were leading each class session and also responding to their peers’ required weekly reading blogs, why not have them determine whether the blogs were good enough to count as fulfilling the terms of the contract? If a blog didn’t pass muster, it would be the task of the student leaders that week to tell the blogger and offer feedback on what would be required for it to count. Student leaders for a class period would have to do that carefully, for next week a classmate would be evaluating their work.
I also liked the idea of students’ each having a turn at being the one giving the grades. That’s not a role most students experience, even though every study of learning shows that you learn best by teaching someone else. Besides, if constant public self-presentation and constant public feedback are characteristics of a digital age, why aren’t we rethinking how we evaluate, measure, test, assess, and create standards? Isn’t that another aspect of our brain on the Internet?
There are many ways of crowdsourcing, and mine was simply to extend the concept of peer leadership to grading. The blogosphere was convinced that either I or my students would be pulling a fast one if the grading were crowdsourced and students had a role in it. That says to me that we don’t believe people can learn unless they are forced to, unless they know it will “count on the test.” As an educator, I find that very depressing. As a student of the Internet, I also find it implausible. If you give people the means to self-publish—whether it’s a photo from their iPhone or a blog—they do so. They seem to love learning and sharing what they know with others. But much of our emphasis on grading is based on the assumption that learning is like cod-liver oil: It is good for you, even though it tastes horrible going down. And much of our educational emphasis is on getting one answer right on one test—as if that says something about the quality of what you have learned or the likelihood that you will remember it after the test is over.
Grading, in a curious way, exemplifies our deepest convictions about excellence and authority, and specifically about the right of those with authority to define what constitutes excellence. If we crowdsource grading, we are suggesting that young people without credentials are fit to judge quality and value. Welcome to the Internet, where everyone’s a critic and anyone can express a view about the new iPhone, restaurant, or quarterback. That democratizing of who can pass judgment is digital thinking. As I found out, it is quite unsettling to people stuck in top-down models of formal education and authority.
Learn. Unlearn. Relearn. In addition to the content of our course—which ranged across cognitive psychology, neuroscience, management theory, literature and the arts, and the various fields that compose science-and-technology studies—”This Is Your Brain on the Internet” was intended to model a different way of knowing the world, one that encompasses new and different forms of collaboration and attention. More than anything, it courted failure. Unlearning.
“I smell a reality TV show,” one critic sniffed.
That’s not such a bad idea, actually. Maybe I’ll try that next time I teach “This Is Your Brain on the Internet.” They can air it right after Project Classroom Makeover.
- The research process
- Searching the Web
- Search engine capabilities
- Search engines especially for children
- Evaluating Internet sources
- Setting bookmarks on the Web
- Copyright issues
- Student activity: Finding a Needle in Cyberspace
- Student activity: Owner’s Rights
- Student activity: Browse the Library of Congress
- Answers: Chapter 5 activities
The Internet can be a researcher’s dream come true. By browsing the Internet, much as you would browse the shelves of a library, you can access information on seemingly limitless topics. In addition, web-based catalogs are available in many libraries to assist researchers in locating printed books, journals, government documents, and other materials.
Possibly the biggest obstacle facing researchers on the Internet is how to effectively and efficiently access the vast amount of information available with the simple click of the mouse. With the Internet’s potential as a research tool, teachers must instruct and guide their students on manageable strategies for sorting through the abundance of information. The search for reliable resources can be both overwhelming and frustrating if students are left on their own in their initial search. A few simple guidelines can make conducting research more manageable, reliable, and fun.
The research process
Lessons and projects should be designed so that research time on the Web can be maximized in terms of efficiency. This may mean gathering necessary information beforehand, having students work in groups, or focusing on whole-class projects.
Barron and Ivers (1996) outlined the following cycle for online research projects.
Step 1: Questioning — Before going on the Internet, students should structure their questions.
Step 2: Planning — Students should develop a search strategy with a list of sites to investigate.
Step 3: Gathering — Students use the Web to collect and gather information.
Step 4: Sorting & Sifting — Students analyze and categorize the data they gathered on the Web.
Step 5: Synthesizing — Students integrate the information into the lesson, and draw conclusions.
Step 6: Evaluating — Students assess the results, and if necessary, begin the process again.
Searching the Web
There are billions of pages of information on the World Wide Web, and finding relevant and reliable information can be a challenge. Search engines are powerful tools that index millions of web sites. When entering a keyword into a search engine, you will receive a list with the number of hits or results and links to the related sites. The number of hits you receive may vary a great deal among different search engines. Some engines search only the titles of the web sites, and others search the full text.
Techniques for using the different search tools vary. For best results, read the search tips or hints that are provided at each search site. Also, note that some of the search engines do not allow Boolean searches that combine words with the logical connectors of AND, OR, or NOT.
Common commands for search engines include:
- Quotation Marks ( ” )
Using quotation marks will help to find specific phrases involving more than one word. For example: “Martin Luther King”
- Addition Sign ( + )
Adding a + sign before a word means that it MUST be included in each site listed. For example: + Florida + taxes
- Subtraction Sign ( – )
Adding a – sign before a word means that it will NOT appear in the sites listed. For example: + Washington -DC
- Asterisks ( * )
Asterisks can be used for wild-cards in some search engines. For example: Mexic* will look for Mexico, Mexican, Mexicali, etc.
Search engine capabilities
Search engines are rated by the size of their index. Large engines such as Google are good tools to use when searching for obscure information, but one drawback to an extensive index is the overwhelming number of results on more general topics. If this is the case, it might be better to use a search engine with a directory structure such as Yahoo.
Many search engines provide directory-listing search tools such as yellow pages, white pages, and email addresses. In addition, many allow you to personalize their site to your needs. For example, you might want to set the attributes of the page to show educational news headlines and your favorite teacher resource links. In the preferences of your web browser, you can then set this page as your home start-up page.
Search engines especially for children
Search engines designed for younger students are useful tools for the classroom. They screen for inappropriate material and provide appropriate sites for students on topics related to educational and entertainment purposes. Using these sites helps to narrow the scope of hits on a search inquiry. As a result, the student will spend less time reading irrelevant material.
Although some search engines allow you to turn on filters to help filter out adult content, they are not always thorough or accurate. There are several good search engines that are specifically designed for the younger audience, such as Ask Jeeves and Yahooligans.
Evaluating Internet sources
Students often uncritically accept information they see in print or on computer screens. Students should be encouraged to carefully evaluate sources found on the Internet. The evaluation tool (below) will help students analyze web resources in terms of accuracy, authority, objectivity, timeliness, and coverage. Consideration of these factors will weed out many of the inaccurate or trivial sites students may encounter.
|Analyzing web resources
Answer the following questions to evaluate web resources.Accuracy
Are sources listed for the facts?
Can information be verified through another source?
Has the site been edited for grammar, spelling, etc.?Authority
Is the publisher reputable?
Is the sponsorship clear?
Is a phone number or postal address available?
Is there a link to the sponsoring organization?
Is the author qualified to write on this topic?
Setting bookmarks on the Web
Browsers such as Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer provide a way to create a list of your favorite sites that you can access with a click of the mouse. The procedure for creating a list of sites is an easy and powerful tool for web use. When you find a web page that you want to bookmark, simply select the “Add Bookmark” or “Add Favorite” option from the menu bar. To return to the site at a later time, choose the name from the bookmark or favorite list, and you will immediately access the site. You can organize your bookmarks into file folders and can save them on a disk to transfer and use on other computers.
Teachers and students have a somewhat flexible, but not unlimited, copyright privilege under the “fair use clause” of the U.S. Copyright Act. “Fair use” is the means by which educators of non-profit educational institutions may use copyrighted works without seeking permission or making payment to the author or publisher. Teachers and students are also protected to some extent by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which went into effect in October 1998. Under current guidelines, teachers and students are able to make limited use of copyrighted materials for instructional purposes.
Currently, copyright law as it relates to the Internet is vague and being challenged and rewritten on an ongoing basis. However, the guidelines of the “fair use clause” can be applied to Internet use in the classroom. Although classroom use allows teachers and students to be creative, you must also be extremely careful. Teachers and students should realize that all materials found on the Internet are protected by the same copyright laws as printed materials. Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are in a tangible form of expression.
Copyrightable works include the following categories:
- literary works
- musical works, including any accompanying words
- dramatic works, including any accompanying music, pantomimes, and choreographic works
- pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- sound recordings
- architectural works
These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” may be registered as “literary works”; maps and architectural plans may be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”
Important questions to ask
- What is the purpose for using the material?
- Who is the audience?
- How widely will the material be distributed?
- Will the material be reproduced?
It is allowable under copyright guidelines to use copyrighted materials for class assignments. Check specific guidelines for length of time the material can be kept up on a web site.
When in doubt, ask.
If you and your students find a graphic or portion of a text on the Internet that you want to utilize in a class project, locate the source of the web site and email them to ask permission for use of their graphic or text. Many web site designers are happy for you to “borrow” their graphics and words. Some ask that you give them credit and others do not. Although your students may be too young to comprehend copyright law, they can understand the concept of respecting someone else’s property.
It is advisable for school sites to have an online service provider or an “agent” who can act as a filter on copyright issues. The agent would be the person someone would notify if they found a copyright violation on a student or school web site. In most cases, you are simply asked to remove the offending copyright violation.
For more information on fair use guidelines for educational multimedia, go to the
Multimedia Fair Use Guidelines (CCMC) web site.
Copyright discussions with students may include:
- Does copyright apply to student web pages? Any original work of authorship, whether created by a student, teacher, or professional is protected by the copyright laws. An original piece of work does not need to possess or display a copyright to be protected under the copyright laws.
- May students “borrow” art, sound, animation, etc., from others’ web pages? Resources (such as graphics and sound files) from most web sites are copyright protected and require permission to use, but the resources at some web sites are advertised as “free” for use. These web sites may require that credit is given to the original source of the materials.
Student activity: Finding a Needle in Cyberspace
Using the major search engines on the Web, find the best way to look for a needle. Fill out the following chart, noting the number of hits you receive in each of the search engines for the word needle and the phrase “Space Needle.” Then, answer the questions at the bottom of the page.
|Search Engine||Search for: needle||Search for: “Space Needle”|
- Which search engine would be the best if you were looking for something very obscure?
- Did searching for “Space Needle” always result in more hits or less hits than searching for needle? Why?
- Which search engine seemed to display the result fastest?
- Try another search. This time, look for sites that contain all of these words: needle, sleeping, and beauty. (Hint: On many of the search engines you can specify that certain words MUST be included by adding a + in front of the word: +needle +sleeping +beauty.)
Student activity: Owner’s Rights
Often a web site will state the terms and conditions for the use of copyrighted materials. The following activities require students to find this information on two different web sites.
America’s Story from America’s Library
America’s Story from America’s Library is from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and is designed for young people.
About this Site
From the “America’s Story” web site, go to About this Site and find out who owns the site and copyright information.
- Does the Library of Congress own the rights to everything in its collections?
- What type of information does the Library of Congress provide?
- If a researcher would like to use material from this site, whom must they contact to get permission?
- Where can a researcher find more information about U.S. Copyright law?
Explore the States
From the “America’s Story” web site, go to Explore the States and then click on Florida. Next, click on the spyglass for enlargement of the photo credit.
- “Saint Augustine, Fla. Bastions of Fort Marion”, comes from what collection of photographs from the Library of Congress?
- Who owns the right to photo 1?
- Between what years was the photograph “Jacksonville, Fla. Signal tower” taken?
Visit the Mary Mack Singing Games section of “America’s Library”.
- The group of girls performing were from what high school?
- What was the date of the performance/recording?
- What is the name of the song?
- Can it be used for a class project?
Meet Amazing Americans
Visit the Frederick Douglas section of “America’s Library”.
- Click on “A Daring Escape.” What is the copyright year of the 1845 cover of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave?
- Who owns the rights to this image?
- Click on “Follow the North Star“. What newspaper did Frederick Douglas publish?
- Where in the Library of Congress is this newspaper located?
- Click on “Recruiting for the Union Army“. Who owns the rights to this picture and in what year was it copyrighted?
Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Are you permitted to use images from this site in a school report that you are not publishing?
- Are you permitted to copy the images to a CD-ROM?
- Are you permitted to use images from this site on a personal web page that includes advertisements?
- Citations for images must include the author and source of the materials as you would from any printed work. What additional piece of information must also be included?
Student activity: Browse the Library of Congress
01. Who is the author of Waiting for Godot?
03. What is the last digit in the ISBN number for Ann E. Barron’s 1997 book?
04. Who wrote The Mysterious Cat?
06. Who wrote a pantomime about Jack and the Beanstalk?
07. What is the first word in the title of one of Michael Verney’s books?
09. What is the last digit in the LC Call Number for 101 Dalmatians by Justine Korman?
10. Who wrote Anatomy of the Honey Bee?
12. When Ten Great Basketball Offenses was revised,how many offenses were there?
13. Who wrote the Global Mind?
14. What is the title of a book by Leon Uris?
01. Who wrote How Good Guys Grow Rich?
02. How many books did Judy Blume publish in 1972?
03. What does the F. stand for in F. Scott Fitzgerald?
05. Who illustrated the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published by Heritage Press in 1940?
08. Where was the Equestrian Statue of Peter I published?
11. How many years did the author of The Scarlet Letter live?
Answers: Chapter 5 activities
Student Activities Answers
Finding a Needle in Cyberspace
Answers will vary.
About this site
- Copyright Owners
Explore the States
- Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
- Sam Cooley
- Liberty High School
Meet Amazing Americans
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- The North Star
- African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship
- Currier and Ives, 1863
Metropolitan Museum of Art
- The URL “www.metmuseum.org”
Browsing the Library of Congress
Innovation Imperative: Change Everything
Online Education as an Agent of Transformation
WHEN the first commercially successful steamship traveled the Hudson River in 1807, it didn’t appear to be much of a competitive threat to transoceanic sailing ships. It was more expensive, less reliable and couldn’t travel very far. Sailors dismissed the idea that steam technology could ever measure up — the vast reach of the Atlantic Ocean surely demanded sails. And so steam power gained its foothold as a “disruptive innovation” in inland waterways, where the ability to move against the wind, or when there was no wind at all, was important.
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
In 1819, the technology vastly improved, the S.S. Savannah made the first Atlantic crossing powered by steam and sail (in truth, only 80 of the 633-hour voyage was by steam). Sailing ship companies didn’t completely ignore the advancement. They built hybrid ships, adding steam engines to their sailing vessels, but never entered the pure steamship market. Ultimately, they paid the price for this decision. By the early 1900s, with steam able to power a ship across the ocean on its own, and do so faster than the wind, customers migrated to steamships. Every single transoceanic sailing-ship company went out of business.
Traditional colleges are currently on their hybrid voyage across the ocean.
Like steam, online education is a disruptive innovation — one that introduces more convenient and affordable products or services that over time transform sectors. Yet many bricks-and-mortar colleges are making the same mistake as the once-dominant tall ships: they offer online courses but are not changing the existing model. They are not saving students time and money, the essential steps to disruption. And though their approach makes sense in the short term, it leaves them vulnerable as students gravitate toward less expensive colleges.
For-profit universities latched on early to online learning, rough as it was in the 1990s. The target, as with all disruptive innovations, was customers who wouldn’t otherwise consume their product — in this case, working adults for whom traditional higher education was inconvenient. In theory, for-profit companies should have shaken up the higher education landscape. But federal financial aid seems to have gummed up the disruption: the easy revenue has encouraged some schools to indiscriminately enroll, often at the expense of quality, and has discouraged cost reduction.
Still, the theory predicts that, be it steam or online education, existing consumers will ultimately adopt the disruption, and a host of struggling colleges and universities — the bottom 25 percent of every tier, we predict — will disappear or merge in the next 10 to 15 years. Already traditional universities are showing the strains of a broken business model, reflecting demand and pricing pressures previously unheard-of in higher education. One example: Needing a cash infusion, Thunderbird School of Global Management in July announced a merger with Laureate Education Inc., an online pioneer.
Even the venerable Harvard Business School has ceded ground to online instruction. Before starting school, students are directed to learning modules on the web that cover entry-level accounting concepts. With the basic competencies covered, classes spend more time on higher-order discussion, and more deeply explore real-world applications. Harvard Business School is also developing a series of “pre-M.B.A. and post-M.B.A.” online courses that it plans to have ready by summer. It calls the initiative HBX.
Meanwhile, many universities have jumped on the MOOC bandwagon, creating a hodgepodge of these massive open online courses for public consumption. But for MOOCs to really fulfill their disruptive potential, they must be built into low-cost programs with certification of skills of value to employers. So far, only a few traditional universities have incorporated MOOCs into their curriculum, and only to supplement what they are already doing — like “flipping the classroom,” with lectures watched from home. MITx is trying to add structure to the MOOC free-for-all by rolling out a sequence of computer science foundational courses this fall, and the MOOC provider Coursera has just started the Wharton M.B.A. Foundation Series. But perhaps the most promising experiment is from the Georgia Institute of Technology, which next year will start offering a $6,600 online master’s degree, a sixth the price of its current degree, in partnership with the MOOC platform Udacity and AT&T Georgia Tech is putting its reputation behind a MOOC credential.
Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
The lessons from any number of industries teach us that those that truly innovate — fundamentally transforming the model, instead of just incorporating the technology into established methods of operation — will have the final say. So it’s no wonder that observers of this phenomenon ask if online learning portends the end of the residential collegiate experience — the opportunity for students to live, socialize and learn together.
The experience that so many of us remember fondly — those bridge years from childhood to functioning adult — is already one that only a minority of students enjoys. According to the Census Bureau, just 30 percent of all beginning students live on a college campus. But it’s unlikely that the residential experience will disappear. Counterintuitive as it may seem, online instruction may mean even more students benefit from the collegial spirit, though one that looks quite different from the residential experience of today.
Right now, some students who want to live on campus find it prohibitively expensive; some who would rather commute live too far away to do so. As online learning evolves, students should be able to customize their experience with what they need and can afford. This kind of unbundling has occurred in countless industries.
Consider personal computers. Nascent technologies always underserve their customers. As they mature, the opposite happens: they overserve, with bells and whistles customers are less willing to pay for. In the beginning, computer components were unpredictable and not standardized, and each company had to build every one of its parts. As the ways in which the components fit together became better understood, companies like Dell could quickly and affordably customize a computer. A customer ordering a Dell in the 1990s specified the amount of memory wanted and type of Seagate drive and Intel processor. Dell simply snapped the modules together and shipped out a computer within 48 hours.
The Minerva Project, a start-up headquartered in San Francisco that aims to provide an affordable liberal arts education, offers clues as to how this might unfold in higher education. Minerva anticipates that most of its students will be from outside the United States. To serve them, it will enlist operators to create mini-campuses around the globe where clusters of its students will live and socialize together in residence halls, as well as take online courses and work together on projects.
With this unbundling, many more students should have the ability to create aspects of a residential experience for themselves. Some students might take courses online and then, to develop their skills, attend learning spaces like Dev Bootcamp in Chicago and San Francisco, or one of General Assembly’s eight locations around the world. Others may just value the flexibility and convenience of a total online learning experience.
As concepts and skills are taught more effectively online, it’s unlikely that face-to-face interaction will cease to matter. Instead, students will be able to arrange for such experiences when it suits the job they need to get done. Given the reality that we all have different learning needs at different times, that’s a far more student-centered experience. It may not benefit some colleges but should create more options for all students.