When I was still taking courses for my degree, I made curriculum one of my areas of emphasis. At the time, my program only had one faculty member who taught courses that were explicitly about curriculum and thus I spent almost a year and a half primarily studying under the guidance of this one professor. He was an older scholar, a relic from a time and place that no longer existed (the past really is another country). More than any other faculty I’ve encountered, he challenged me to clarify my thinking about education in this country and to try to separate the educational from the economic or the political when I thought about the curriculum. One of his least favorite developments in education in the United States was the increased role of technology in the classroom. He couldn’t see the educational value; he saw no philosophy of education behind its use. And to a certain degree he had a point. Sometimes the public conversation about technology in education takes its value and role for granted, or implicitly suggests that all that matters is that schools are “cutting edge” (in this way it’s no different than some public discussion that assumes more money is all we need to “fix” education in this country). However, he also felt that education needed to be social, and felt so strongly about the anti-social nature of computers that he threw away his family’s computer because it was preventing his youngest son from talking to family on the phone when they called. On this point, I think his age and life experiences made it harder for him to understand the direction of our current world. For better or worse, technology is a dominant form of socialization and communication now (the realm of experience is shifting and if education is supposed to be experiential than it is time to embrace technology), and it is changing everything about our culture (much to the chagrin of some members of older generations).
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently featured two pieces on online learning that warrant attention. The first is a commentary article by Kevin Carey about the development of a mostly free online university called The University of the People, and the second a blog post by Frank Donoghue addressing his resistance to online learning institutions despite their growth and stability (they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon).
The development of an online university that is basically cost free for students (using internet social media and open source technologies, and curriculum created by volunteers) sounds great, but I think expansion of these kinds of institutions will not meet widespread support amongst faculty. Yes, providing education to low income students is great and most faculty would have little problem with that. However, many faculty still have reservations about curricular programs that only use technology (see Donoghue’s blog for just one example) because they either don’t seem to grasp how technological the younger generations really are or think it is one of the four signs of the apocalypse. Ialso think many would resent an institutional model that is dependent on faculty offering their expertise for no compensation. Large amounts of Ph.Ds in many fields are already diluting the distinction of scholarly expertise to a point where tenure may disappear because it is easy and cheap to find academic labor willing to work on short-term contracts. Widespread volunteerism could exacerbate this problem.