Stanford has taken their school of Engineering to the world. They join MIT, and a host of other universities in giving away their content for free.

Of everything that the internet has brought us, I’m the most thrilled with this revolutionary new mindset, that knowledge is the province of all of humanity, not a scarce resources to be hoarded and doled out in strict hierarchies of authority.

I’m excited for what this means for the role of the teacher in the coming generation. In addition to being experts in our field, we will need to become more adept curators of knowledge, organizing and presenting it in a compelling way. We also need to become more adept at modifying and evolving our teaching in improvisatory way, as student curiosity and awareness changes. The experience of being in the room should be different, based on who is in the room.

My authority to teach no longer comes from my ability to take money and dispense knowledge – anything I can teach my students, they have ready access to for free online. My authority to teach (if I have any!) comes from my ability to create a compelling environment in which to learn, and to bring to my students attention new ideas in a way that meets their development in a timely manner.

I’m often puzzled by profs here at APU who don’t record lectures, don’t publish their notes, don’t push content out in ways that students can access on demand. They are trapped in a protectionist mindset, concerned that if they give away their content, they will make themselves obsolete. Students won’t attend classes if they can get the content off-line.

If the only reason my students attend my class is because I am holding information hostage, I’m violating one of my fundamental obligations as a teacher. If I can’t give them some other compelling reason to be present in that room, then why shouldn’t I be replaced by a bikini-clad supermodel reading straight from wikipedia?

17 thoughts on “SEE

  1. Chad

    If, perchance, you decide to go with the supermodel reading from Wikipedia plan, make sure that one gets podcast, too.

    I mean.. just for the sake of keeping the information available to the masses and all.

  2. harmonicminer

    To be honest, most profs don’t “push out their content” because they don’t know how, and are too lazy to learn.

    Then there are those of us who more or less know how, or more or less know how to teach ourselves whatever we don’t know yet, but don’t do it because we’re just plain lazy.

    I suppose there are some who are in the protectionist mindset… but I think most of us fall in one of the categories above.

    At some point, probably in the not-too-distant future, faculty who don’t do this will have progressively less success in their careers… but we aren’t quite there yet.

    A caveat, though: there is still no technologically based way to replace everything that happens in the classroom of a professor who is actually THERE with the students. There may be, at some point. But not yet.

    Not that all faculty are actually THERE.

    I guess I still think the most powerful environments will be the ones where the content is “pushed out” for those who can take it in that way, and available in person for the rest, and the mixtures of this are available for reinforcement and enrichment.

  3. Pi

    Bad Class:
    I took an intro to computer science course two years ago, worst class I have every enrolled in. After the first day I took the syllabus and started googling lecture topics. In three hours I had gone over everything in the syllabus, making the remainder of the class very easy. After the second week I stopped going, I had learned the material and the teacher was only handing out notes from a poorly made powerpoint.
    Good Class:
    The following semester I took my final Music Theory course. The material covered was very straight forward and easy to understand. Everything taught was straight from the textbook, which I had eagerly read the first week of class. I never missed that class. It wasn’t the material, it was the way the teacher took the basic material and brought it into the real world.

    All of this is to say, I agree with Phil. There’s nothing that can replace having a teacher speak instead of a textbook.

  4. Cerise

    This is brilliant, Michael, seriously. I’ve never heard such a compelling argument against protectionism. I also completely agree that the perceived threat of the leak of information is much less than I imagined, for we must not forget the magical force of handholding. People CAN operate like Pi, but I’m going out on a limb here to say that probably 60% don’t. At least. Those people are the ones who do and will continue to pay you to walk them through the glut of information available to them.

    And thus we will eventually become like the United Federation of Planets, where people (and not just humans!) give of their services and time for the betterment of everyone, we all wear once-piece garments and there’s no money.

  5. Sharolyn's Husband

    How can you call me a nerd when I ride my bike to school with my bass trombone on my back? How sweet is that?

    I began creating a web-based beginning band program, but then I realized all I needed was an MP3 of me saying “Sit up and take a big breath! TRUMPETS F SHARP!”

  6. Cerise

    “How can you call me a nerd when I ride my bike to school with my bass trombone on my back?”

    [laughing] Most concise definition I’ve ever heard, Earthling.

    Dude, if it’s NOT all about sex with aliens, then why – at the end of every credits roll for the Star Trek original series – do they have the picture of the hot green chick looking like she’s about to do a backflip in a loincloth? Why, I ask you?

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