Posted by: crudbasher | July 6, 2012

The Ostrich Effect In Higher Education

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.” – Bill Gates, 1981 

(cc) Martin_Heigan

The biggest prerequisite for reading a site like Education Stormfront is an open mind. If you are at least open to new possibilities, then I will try to provide you with a lot of food for thought. I won’t always be right but I will be open to many things.  To their credit I know of many people in higher education today who are open to new possibilities. Of course, there are degrees of openness. I try to be open to everything but I suppose it depends on how much you have at stake in the current system. If you are, for example, a college president, it must become very difficult to imagine your world being anything but what it is. It is usually more comfortable to just be like an ostrich and bury one’s head in the sand. 🙂

I found an article in the LA Times written by two college Presidents. In it they make the case that all the people (like me) who are predicting that higher education is about to be disrupted are wrong. I encourage you to read the whole article but I can sum it up with a quote.

We take comfort in the fact that for more than a century predictions about the impending demise of classic higher education have met the same fate: They have been utterly wrong.

They spend a lot of the article talking about how successful the university system is right now, and I agree it is probably at the height of it’s power. But their argument about why things will continue is basically that people have been wrong in the past, so they are wrong now. This is completely illogical. If I flip a coin there is a 50/50 probability that it will come up heads. Let’s say I flip it 3 times and it comes up heads all three times. If I flip it again, what is the probability it will come up heads again? It’s actually still 50/50 despite the streak of heads previously. Every investment site has this disclaimer on it: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future performance.

Of course there have been people like this before. In a rather famous Newsweek column from 1995 by Clifford Stoll, he goes off on kind of a rant about how the Internet won’t change anything. Here are some classic quotes:

Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.

How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure.

Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals.   Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

That was 17 years ago. In that time, everything he said has been proven wrong. Oh it’s easy to bash him now but predicting the future is hard. His problem was he got hung up on specific technologies and didn’t look at overall trends.

Our view of the world is always filtered by our preconceptions and biases. A person who is aware of that can compensate for them to a certain extent but most people don’t. Everything I see tells me that something remarkably transformative is happening to society and the Internet is causing it. Those people who keep an open mind and learn to adapt to the changes will do fine, those that ignore what is happening will be superseded by events. How sure am I? I’ll give you better than 50/50 odds. 🙂

Press More for annotated quotes from both articles.

 

  • Higher education’s doomsayers are wrong – latimes.com
    • Higher education as we know it is about to come to an end. After all, there are no jobs for college graduates, certainly not for liberal arts students.
    • As college presidents who hear such proclamations over and over again, we find ourselves suppressing the urge to yawn, and not because we lose sleep over them.
    • We take comfort in the fact that for more than a century predictions about the impending demise of classic higher education have met the same fate: They have been utterly wrong.
    • Though college debt levels clearly are something to monitor, the vast majority of students graduate with relatively small debt burdens — about $25,000 on average — and about one-third leave college with no debt at all. Meanwhile, the college premium — the ratio of college earnings to high school earnings — is at or near record levels and has been increasing decade after decade since the late 1970s. While for-profit colleges enroll an increasing percentage of all undergraduates, the demand for education at selective private and public universities and colleges continues to grow, as evidenced by dramatic declines in the percentage of applicants they admit. And worry that on-line education will replace the four-year undergraduate growth experience that takes place on a college campus seems as unfounded now as when first articulated 20 years ago.
    • There is a surefire way to make today’s dire predictions come to pass — if educational leaders feel compelled to listen to scaremongers who are all too anxious to force us to adopt a new model that eliminates outstanding professors and their passion for teaching, research budgets and the pursuit of new knowledge, the residential college experience and the core commitment to excellence that have made American higher education the leader in the world. If that were to happen, we might end up with colleges and universities that aren’t worth saving.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

    • I’m uneasy about this most trendy and oversold community. Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.
    • Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.
    • How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.
    • Then there are those pushing computers into schools. We’re told that multimedia will make schoolwork easy and fun. Students will happily learn from animated characters while taught by expertly tailored software.Who needs teachers when you’ve got computer-aided education? Bah. These expensive toys are difficult to use in classrooms and require extensive teacher training. Sure, kids love videogames—but think of your own experience: can you recall even one educational filmstrip of decades past? I’ll bet you remember the two or three great teachers who made a difference in your life.
    • Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals.
    • Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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Responses

  1. […] for a few decades now so what have schools been doing with it? Building up a fund for rainy days? Get serious. They have been investing in their facilities! In order to attract students you have to have good […]


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