Tag Archives: Learning

Higher Education is More Like Telecommuting and Less Like Newspapers, Part 1

I came across an interesting article in The American Interest magazine a couple of days ago. It was by way of tweet (as it most often is). This tweet came from one of the professors at George Mason University, Prof. Auerswald. He’s done some really cool stuff, so be sure to check ’em out! The tweet which led me to the article:

Intriguing, yes? Well, it was to me, so I proceeded to read the article from the magazine. As for the argument that universities are going the way of the newspaper because of the internet — I don’t necessarily agree with it.

In fact, I think that higher education will go the way of telecommuting more than it will the way of newspapers. What do I mean? Well, telecommuting first became popular last century. It only existed as a possibility from about the 1970s on. By now, you’d expect that lots of people would telecommute, right? Depending on your definition of lots…

Total Number of US teleworkers

This graphic shows that there are only about 3 million total employees who telecommuted in 2011. If I were asked to guess in 1990s how many folks would be telecommuting in the 2010s, I would have guessed waay more than 3 million — as I’m sure most people would.

Higher education — learning — has, for the most part, been an in-person thing. People enroll in university and spend the next 4-5 years living on- (or off-) campus taking classes. In that time, they may also join student organizations, hold internships, and meet a whole bunch of new people. Some of those people become their friends for the rest of their lives.

MOOCs do not have the same qualities of in-person education. Learning online (or on your own) won’t necessarily reap the same benefits of attending university.

I understand the argument and the correlation between newspapers and higher education makes sense, but I just don’t buy it. I don’t believe that higher education will go the same way as Newsweek or other publications. Higher education is more than just the degree. That’s not to say that some consumers won’t choose to go the way of online learning, but I don’t think that it will pull enough folks away from wanting the in-person learning. This is why I think MOOCs and online education is more likely to go the way of telecommuting.

That being said, I do think that MOOCs present a major threat to the higher education market because consumers will perceive it as a shortcut to a degree.

And more than that, I think that advances in telecommuting could shift the way we telecommute — and by extension — higher education. In fact, I remember during the 2008 election, CNN had a “virtual presence” technology wherein one of their guests was somewhere else entirely, but there was a holographic representation of them in the studio (with which Wolf Blitzer was interacting). That was 4 years ago!

I don’t know what happened to that technology (if it’s being developed for commercial use, etc.), but I think that could seriously change the way we interact. I think if that technology were introduced on a larger scale, that would certainly increase the number of telecommuters. Similarly, I think that would have a chance at seriously changing the face of higher education. This technology, assuming it’s “just as good as being there,” would allow folks to be in the comfort of their basements (or virtual presence studio?), while still being at work or in a classroom.

Just as a closing: anything written about the future is inherently flawed. There’s no way to know (for sure) what will happen or won’t happen in the future. So, while these are some predictions or guesses I’m making about the future, they may turn out to be wildly wrong (or surprisingly right).

Note: After writing this, I realized that there were a few more things I wanted to touch on. Look for Part 2 tomorrow!

Are Grades and Tests the Best Way to Measure Learning?

The other week in class, I was speaking with a classmate about grades and learning. We were opining about how sometimes, getting the right answer (on an assignment) shouldn’t necessarily be the goal of the assignment. That is, shouldn’t learning be the goal? Shouldn’t improving one’s storehouse of wisdom be the goal? Shouldn’t understanding be the goal?

Of course, that is the intention with these assignments — that one will learn/understand the material. After having spent (almost) an entire semester on the other side of the classroom, I certainly have [some] empathy for teachers and their assignments. While I don’t have to report to a department chair, I understand that in order to measure students, there needs to be something measurable and I understand that tests/assignments have become the easy way of doing this. Should this be acceptable, though?

I recently came across an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that addresses this issue:

According to this view, the nature of teaching and learning should be measured instead of relying solely on an outcome like a grade or a test. Students should be exposed to courses and assignments that require them to analyze information and apply it to new contexts, reflect on what they know, identify what they still need to learn, and sort through contradictory arguments.

Such opportunities are described in research literature as “deep approaches to learning.” They figure prominently in Thursday’s release of data from the National Survey of Student Engagement. While Nessie, as the survey is known, has long sought data on those practices, this year’s report replicated and extended the previous year’s findings, which showed that participation in deep approaches tends to relate to other forms of engagement, like taking part in first-year learning communities and research projects.

This article has sparked a great deal of debate in the comments section, too. Here’s one comment that I found particularly on-point:

I do not want to be an apologist for the way things are, because it is always possible to improve our practices and in many respects we are responsible for the critical view the public have of us (honestly, it isn’t all the fault of right wing politicians with an anti-intellectual bent); however, higher ed adminstrators and the higher ed press have to stop treating each new study, each new innovation and each new utterance from some rich person suddenly interested in, but also dismissive of, higher ed (I’m looking at you Bill Gates) as the silver bullet  that is going to transform and save higher ed.  My head is not in the sand, I know higher ed (particularly public higher ed) is going through rough times but the panicked responses of the folks in charge is truly dismaying.


I once wrote about the need to shift towards Waldorf- & Montessori-like education. When I wrote this, I was thinking more about elementary and high school. I wonder — what should the model look like for college/university? Should it also be Waldorf- & Montessori-like? I don’t know, but it’s certainly a question worth asking.