so gradually I didn’t even notice

(nothing like a golden-age Simpsons reference…I really didn’t mean for this blog to become All Higher Ed, All The Time, but if it works…)

Matt Reed, the confessing community college dean, has a great post up today about the differences between mere competency and those skills which require the investment of time. The model is music lessons, and I believe this to be an outstanding metaphor for why education – at all levels, but especially higher education – cannot be broken down into standardized tests, MOOCs, and credit for life experience.

To be sure, I have no trouble with well-articulated, critically- and curricularly-thought-out plans to give credit for life experience (I hear good things about Thomas Edison State College and Empire State College), but I am skeptical that the true college/university experience (critical thinking, citizenship, breadth of knowledge, high level of expertise in a chosen area) can be reduced to a series of check-off boxes.

Of some concern is Coursera’s plan to offer MOOCs to “non-elite” institutions; I refuse to accept that because I don’t teach at Harvard I am less of a professor, which is the clear implication of this plan. (See Matt Reed’s Three Dollar People blog entry for a similar thought.)

What say you, Gentle Reader?



  1. As you know Wes, I went to Thomas Edison State College. I didn’t test for any life credits so I have no idea what the testing is like. I did receive credits for all my pilots licenses which was probably the equivalent of the credit I would have received from an Aviation University like Embrey Riddle University or The University of North Dakota.

    I was told the shortest path for me to finish my degree was to Major in Liberal Arts. I just wanted the piece of paper. It is all that is required to work for the Major airlines. They do not care if you have a degree in basket weaving as long as you have all the licensing which requires a good knowledge of physics, meteorology, FAA regulations and the ability to fly the aircraft.

    I only had to take two classes to finish the Liberal Arts degree and I had to take 9 classes if I wanted a degree in Aviation Sciences. I took the shorter path because the sooner I can get on at a major the more money I will make in my lifetime.

    I took an undergraduate science class, Astronomy. It required a lot of reading and research beyond the information in the text to get an A in the class. (At least this is what I did to get an A in the class.) I was required to do a research paper that was 12 pages long for the class. There was a mid term exam. The questions were very difficult. I don’t think I did well on it but it’s possible it was graded on a curve. There was also a forum in which all students were required to participate as part of the grade for the class.

    The other class I took was my Capstone. I did a multimedia project that consisted of a Power Point with recorded music that I played and You Tube videos. The presentation was cut to 30 minutes with the option of watching the entire presentation which was an hour in length. I also had a paper that accompanied the presentation that was 20 pages in length which gave background information of the study I conducted for my Capstone.

    If all the classes are like the ones I took online at TESC (Thomas Edison State College), I think that the education I received from TESC is up to par with a regular university. I know I wrote more papers for the two classes that I took there, than I did in the majority of the classes that I took at Clayton State University and Georgia State University.

    I do think that there is something to be said about attending a traditional college and interacting with other students one on one. Nothing online, so far, can replace the valuable experience of dealing with people who have differing opinions in a civil manner. Engaging others in thoughtful conversation broadens the mind. This cannot be replicated adequately in a forum. From my small experience of interacting with others in my class, through the forums, (most of them were very young and home schooled), socialization was direly needed. Most of them had the attitude of “It’s my way or the Highway” and their rigidity would not wavier even if data did not support their beliefs. One of the reasons for attending college is to broaden the mind and I do not think an entire education online will encourage “thinking outside the box” and being open to new concepts.

    One on one guidance in a chosen field is very important. I don’t think a MOOC would work at all in any field. Would you want to go to a doctor who took all his anatomy classes online and did all of his dissections without a live person looking and checking? Would you like to ride in an airplane with a pilot who only had experience flying simulators? The simulators are very good these days but they are not the real thing.

    Real live professors and teachers are very valuable and the ability to choose a different professor for a class can also be valuable. Students do not all fit in one box, nor do the professors. I have had teachers try and show me a way to do something and I just didn’t get it. Another will show me a different way and it clicks. Sometimes it takes another student to get the information and message through and not an instructor.

    Reducing staff is a disservice to academia and the students. Moving to a mostly online education may not work for everyone.

    This is my two cents.

  2. English and math have this as such a matter of routine that I’ve never really thought about it. There’s a huge difference between testing out of a remedial class than from an advanced core class but I’m not sure how or where to draw the line. Certain majors (medical technicians or aviation) would work fine with switching experience for courses but others wouldn’t really fit.

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