Sunday, November 07, 2010

"Edupunk" and The End of the University


Subtitle: "Can the Innovative DIY Education Movement Really Replace the Dying University Model?"


(a) Probably not
(b) the university model is not dying.

The university model is not a very good one...but it's not dying that I can see, despite many assurances that its demise is imminent. It seems that there's got to be a better way...but nobody knows what it is yet. ('s spirit is dying...but who cares about that?)

My own guesses about what's ailing the university include, roughly in order of severity:

1. Most students don't care about learning
Not one bit. They care about making money later on. They care about getting laid (but who doesn't?). But they do not care at all about learning. They do not live the life of the mind and do not care to. In fact, they will have very little contact with it by the time they graduate, and will go on about their lives as ignorant about it after graduation as they were before.

2. Many teachers don't care about teaching
They care about research/scholarship. They care about climbing the professional/academic ladder. But they don't care much about teaching. They've learned, among other things, that if they give undemanding lectures and high grades, then they don't have to spend much energy preparing nor grading. Anyway, hard to grade them when the incentive structure is set up in a way that does not reward rigorous teaching.

3. Many majors are bullshit
From well-established bullshit majors like marketing, through the sophistical deserts of "speech communication" to the superabundance of new boutique majors--"x studies" for any value of x you can think of--a huge vast percentage of majors are just plain bullshit. You may very well come out of some of them dumber than you went in.

4. The resortification of the university
Universities have become vacation resorts. Gone are the dingy classrooms, the musty libraries, the tattered gyms. At my own institution, the only thing we do seem to have money for is shiny bells and whistles. The gym is palatial, and getting bigger; the classrooms almost all have every high-tech gizmo you could ever ask for; the campus is landscaped to within an inch of its life. We haven't gotten a raise in four years, and we barely got any before that...but students can get massages and haircuts, and everything is bright and new.

5. Administrative and quasi-administrative bloat
We've got enough deanlings, deanlets, sub-deanlets, coordinators and suchlike to man an entire small college--well, if such people knew anything, that is. I have it on first-hand testimony that, in some positions, the biggest challenge is finding something to do. (One popular choice: institute some new program that will generate more work for the faculty...)

6. Professors tend to teach what's easy to teach, not what students need to know
Listing facts, for example, is easy. So is allowing students to share their feelings. Teaching them to reason is hard. After awhile, you start to feel the allure of doing what you can do instead of what you're needed to do.

Anyway. Universities are not great. It's not clear how you can be great when most of your students don't give a rat's ass about learning...but you'd think we could suck less than we do. I don't expect anything to replace us soon, but I do expect something to replace us sometime--though it'll probably be a better version of us. My guess is that about half of what we do should be done online. You don't, for example, need a Ph.D. in philosophy to explain basic logic to you. Much of your learning could easily be done at the computer. Then you could come in to campus later on for some actual, small-group or individual time with professors who no longer have to waste their time teaching stuff that a monkey (or a computer) could teach. That's my current stab at it, anyway.

Anyway, check out this link to Critical Mass, which briefly discusses some of the major problems facing the university, including some of the above.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home