Monday, May 28, 2007

Not Diploma-tic

Speaking of automation and higher education, on the plane flight home from Berkeley I finished reading David F. Noble's Digital Diploma Mills. Of course, who couldn't help but enjoy the prose of a book with passages such as this:

The monotonal mantras about our inevitable wired destiny, the prepackaged palaver of silicon snake-oil salesmen, echoed through the halls of academe, replete with sophomoric allusions to historical precedent (the invention of writing and the printing press) and sound-bites about the imminent demise of the "sage on the stage" and "bricks and mortar" institutions. But today, alas, the wind is out of their sails, their momentum broken, their confidence shaken.

But I had a lot of difficulty with Noble's arguments against making course websites into a venue for public information and his moralistic defense of copyright as a public institution. (Regarding copyright debates, I'll get to my reactions to Mark Helprin's "A Great Idea Lives Forever, Shouldn't Its Copyright" later this week, as well as the wiki that Lawrence Lessig's wiki that rebuts its arguments.) I'm certainly wary of nondisclosure agreements or secret contracts between corporate software vendors and universities, although right now the issues that Noble raises may be most salient to the Google digitization debate.

Yet Noble overlooks obvious alternatives to proprietary courseware, such as digital coursework based on a creative commons or open source models, or the existence of the international community exploring electronic educational environments in the 1990s. He also doesn't consider the value of hybrid education in which digital materials are integrated into live teaching. Moreover, he actually throws more obstacles in front of the collaborations that I would argue the digital university will need to survive, which I describe in this paper about Virtualpolitik and higher education.

Finally, I thought his epilogue about September 11th didn't make sense to me, in which he argued that academics should be even more secretive about their course materials in an environment of political surveillance and suspicion. I taught my first course about the rhetoric of the Internet in the immediate wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and I thought the environment of openness that I tried to foster around the course materials -- some of which were used by a composition textbook company without permission or compensation and even repurposed for other courses -- is healthier for higher education and public culture more generally. (By the way, I officially give permission here for others to use those September 11th materials here and will try to get around to slapping a creative commons license on the site.)

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home