Back to Work

I’m working tonight on revising something for publication, so just a quick note from Derek Bok, who writes that “For-profit, on-line education aimed at unwary audiences carries a grave risk of exploiting students. . . The promise of the new educational technology lies in developing highly interactive classes that make good uses of simulations, case-method discussions, games, and other means of provoking discussion among students and instructors. But this is the most expensive type of distance education and will probably cost as least as much as much as conventional campus courses. The way to make big money with the Internet is to attract large audiences with polished lectures by well-known figures, supplemented by attractive visuals and carefully crafted materials, but with a minimum of feedback and interactivity in order to keep down marginal costs and take full advantage of economies of scale. The courses that result may seem attractive, but they will fall far short of achieving the full potential of the new technology” (170-171). Yet again, while I might wish for a less measured and careful tone from Bok — he does not equivocate, but I feel his topic demands more passion than he gives it — I cannot help but agree. One might combine the arguments of Bok and C. Paul Olson to point out that education is by nature a labor-intensive process, and our contemporary trend of replacing labor-intensive processes with capital-intensive processes (such as those associated with the computer) simply cannot be applied to all things.

Back to Work

2 thoughts on “Back to Work

  • January 5, 2004 at 8:08 pm

    Good to see you back blogging, Mike. I trust the lung crud is slowly clearing up.

    I agree with Bok too, that the best uses of technology lie in its capacity for connecting students to each other, students to teachers, students to databases and on-line resources. Done properly, this will not reduce labor costs, but it has already reduced capital costs. California campuses will not have to build as many classrooms as student demand projected because a growing portion of classes are done in distance learning and hybrid formats. To illustrate, my two sections of composition last quarter required only one classroom at 10:30, where conventional instruction would have required two (one at 10:30 and one at another hour).

    Bok does point to the issue of trying to create semi-automated classes, but I’m not convinced that’s going to be a cash cow since so many colleges have gotten into the business so they don’t get beat out by the competition. In other words, there will be no academic Netscape, or Microsoft, or BrocadeSystems (my brother’s company) which garners huge market share. I’ve seen this formulation of the brilliant lecturer, the automated on-line testing, the marketing to millions for close to ten years now. If someone could pull it off, they would have by now.

    Higher education uses its accrediting processes to keep these developments under control. The proprietary institutions can’t get way out of line, or they’ll have their accreditation pulled.

  • January 7, 2004 at 10:38 pm

    Hmm. Re your first paragraph: what are the logistics of those hybrid or semi-automated classes? To my mind, the value of composition instruction inheres in the close interpersonal work on revision done by and among teachers in students: in other words, a labor-intensive and often face-to-face process. I’ll acknowledge, though, that my readings in Marxist-influenced texts have certainly led me to read “increased productivity” as “increased exploitation”: efficiency is a value, yes — but there are others.

    Re your second paragraph: I totally agree. (But the cottage industry that is Harold Bloom and his branded publications might be an amusing counterargument: have you seen all the stuff associated with this guy?)

    And re your third paragraph: those accrediting processes, I want to argue, are not neutral, nor do they exist in a vacuum outside of economic influence. But I know very little about how they work, and might ask: how does accreditation happen, who does it, what are their standards, and who decides?

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