Monday, July 29, 2013

ARR! point & counterpoint.

so i've been reading about MOOCS again. here are a few excerpts i found:

"What you can do over the Internet this way is deliver information, but that's not education. Education, as any real teacher will tell you, involves more than just transmitting facts. It means teaching students what to do with those facts, as well as the skills they need to go out and learn new information themselves."

(as pointed out in "The MOOC Racket" @slate)

".. are we sure the only way to teach people what to do with facts is face-to-face? This seems like something that could at least conceivably be taught to more than one person at once. I can remember lots of professors teaching me what to do with facts via lectures in extremely large auditoriums, which is not that different than a lecture you watch online."

(a counterpoint via College Professors Are About to Get Really Mad at President Οbama @nymag)

ye gods, this issue is confusing, especially when one accounts for the perspectives of the given pundits. for one thing ..
.. the first point comes from a university professor, who has probably developed an expertise in little-known fields (or at least poorly popularised) over years of study in academia. for him, relevant professional information typically arrives through academic channels and processing the information is a careful, length process of some depth. (think of the peer review process: ouch!)

the second point comes from a editor/journalist who has developed a different expertise in a widely-recognised occupation, probably by way of on the job training and less formal study [1]. relevant professional information probably comes through many diverse channels and rapidly so; the process of response probably requires similar speed (in order to remain relevant).
there are also tacit yet important questions here:

for a young adult, is college necessary for a future successful career?
if so, then what should (s)he learn at university?

honestly, i have no idea. there are too many types of careers out there for a simple answer. the issue gets even murkier when you account for advances in technology, even at the scale of a generation or two.
for example, it seems that there is a lack of available workers in the skilled trades, and the current infrastructure of civilization relies crucially on the fruits of their labor.

on the other hand, what if 3-D printing becomes robust enough, and available through a sufficiently diverse selection of materials, so that plumbing, welding, and soldering no longer require the work of human hands?

this sounds like science fiction, of course. i'll not discuss the likelihoods of certain events occurring .. mostly because i cannot even guess, much less quantify the time-dependent sample space of modern civilisation.

on the other hand, i would like to point out that they are real possibilities: take, for example, the history of the Luddites or how human computers were replaced by digital ones. now that i think about it, i wonder how many more travel agents there are nowadays, with the popularity of flight search engines and all ..? [2]

at any rate, the main problem is that we don't know what "workers of the future" need to know how to do, because many of those future jobs don't exist yet. (explain, for example, the notion of a web developer to someone in the 1970s.) at best we can only make decisions about how to help young adults now, with well-defined criteria ..

.. such as economic ones, i.e. whether they should be obligated to put themselves into tens of thousands of dollars in debt before the age of 30?

[1] this is not to say that the second writer knows any less than the first, nor is he any worse at his job. honestly, you cannot compare such experiences. if the second writer is a success, then i would guess that has to do with a lot of deliberate and systematic effort on his part. he may even have studied many journalists he has admired, read very carefully their work and took notes, which is clearly a kind of study, but not the formal kind you see in universities.

if this is his approach, then i applaud the guy. deliberate practice of this kind, regardless of the circumstance, is often necessary to succeed in many areas in life.

[2] actually, there may in fact be more travel agents than ever before. travel for pleasure has become more and more accessible; on the other hand, there is still a large population out there who cannot (or will not) deal with a computer .. or even afford a computer or high-speed internet. \-:

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