Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Distributed University

Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine has an interesting post describing an idea I've heard others articulate - building a course by finding and aggregating exemplary content from all over the web. Jarvis's idea, which is more expansive, is Google U or Google University. His idea is not just a distributed course or curriculum, but a distributed university. The most telling of his comments are that the Internet disaggregates ruthlessly and is unforgiving of of the need or desire to preserve old models and methods and in response, education needs to figure out how to become less of an institution and more of a platform. As educators, we really need to think seriously about how the Internet will re-shape what we do and figure out a way to respond. No one likes change, but it's much easier to embrace and lead the change than to watch it happening around you and end up like the dinosaurs - you can see them at the Natural History Museum.

Read more from Jarvis below:
I wonder what the distributed university will look like. For that matter, I wonder what the distributed education will look like. It’s not an idle curiosity. Like media and every industry and institution before it, the academe is waiting to be exploded by the internet.

Why should my son or daughter have to pick a single college and with it only the teachers and courses offered there? Online, they should be able to take most any course anywhere. Indeed, schools from MIT to Stanford are now offering their curricula the internet. Of course, these come without the benefit of the instructors’ attention — and without tuition — but it’s easy to add that interaction; there are lots of online courses taught by live faculty.

Similarly, why should a professor pick just from the students accepted at his or her school? Online, the best can pick from the best, cutting out the middleman of university admissions.

Now the next step: students teaching each other... students can self-organize with teachers and fellow students to learn what they want how and where they want. [and] ... could finally lead to the lifelong education we keep nattering about but do little to actually support.

... why don’t we? Because it doesn’t fit into the degree structure. And because self-organizing classes and education could cut academic institutions out of the their exclusive role in education.

So what if the degree structure is outmoded? What does a bachelor’s of arts really say you’re ready to do?

If education ends up handled by the Phoenix Universities of the web, then what happens to scholarship? The problem here is that the internet is unforgiving of needs to preserve old models and methods. It disaggregates ruthlessly.

So I think that education has a rude shocking coming unless it gets ahead of this change and figures out how to become less of an institution and more of a platform. So what does the distributed university look like?

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