Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gosh, You've Really Said It Now

"Universities will be 'irrelevant' by 2020, Y. professor says" might be a headline that David Wiley regrets right now. Of course, Wiley is becoming known for making predictions and for staking out some of the more extreme positions in the Open CourseWare movement, as I argue in this recent talk, so these fighting words might not come as much of a surprise to those who know his public pronouncements.

What I find interesting is reading the hundred-plus comments and the kinds of metaphors that online writers draw upon to describe the educational system. For example, this one makes an analogy of education to physical health, which is difficult to commodify and package.

Wiley is an ignoramus. He assumes that "knowledge" and "education" are things – commodities that can be stored on a hard drive, downloaded onto an iPod, and transferred into the passive brain of a “student”. That is equivalent to thinking that “health” can be packaged, stored, downloaded, and ingested in a pill form. Wrong. Education, like physical health, is an dynamic, active, living, changing experience in relation with other people, at least one of whom has demonstrated him/her-self as having achieved a higher level of “education” (intellectual health). It cannot be packaged and ingested no matter how amazing technology becomes! Education and knowledge are organic, social, and experiential. Wiley doesn’t get it, which is why he reveals himself to have a substandard education and a lack of knowledge. He should be dismissed as nothing more than a peer wacko with Steven E Jones, formerly of BYU.

This comment makes a comparison of universities to newspapers, which not only need to change with the times to adapt to digital delivery systems but also to consider their supposedly unpopular partisan political positions as well.

Sounds like universities have the same problem that newspapers do, they don't like the truth, are left-leaning, and are institutions where socialist collude.

At the same time, there are different kinds of attention-getting calls for educational reform in higher education that are coming from Zeno Franco, who I've written about before in connection with his work on risk communication and who has also done some interesting work with Philip Zimbardo of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. Now Franco is putting forward his own interdisciplinary manifesto and group project at his Metaversity Project site. Those who know Clark Kerr's work on how the "university" is really a "multiversity" may find Franco's definitional work particularly interesting.

Update: Cathy Davidson of HASTAC points out that an opinion piece the New York Times called "End the University as We Know It" is well worth reading.

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