Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Professors Should Think Like Bloggers. What?

The other day, the friend and I spent a couple of hours with two older friends of hers, over coffee and cake and cheese and poetry and politics and, yes, higher education.  As Ken Robinson noted in his widely watched TED talk, everybody is interested in education and everybody has strong opinions about it.  Right?

So, when talking about higher education and everything else, my blogging came up.  I told them how a few years ago a student exclaimed in class that he was reading my blog and realized that he need not come to my classes and can get everything that I might have to say in the class right from the blog itself.

Whenever students discover this, I tell them that my blog serves multiple purposes for me, of which one is that this blog serves as my own notes that I can refer to if/when needed.  And, of course, it also serves the curiosities of anybody who is interested in the content here.

Over the years, I have wondered why faculty do not operate in such modes, within and outside the classroom.  Today, I get more support along these lines.  From Tyler Cowen, who is one heck of a prolific, accomplished, polymath of a professor across the continent.  Cowen, whom I have cited many times here, says:
What’s a university and what is not? Those distinctions are crumbling. If we’re not a university, maybe no one else will be either. There’s a lot of content on the web. A lot of it’s free. That will be increasingly important. I think it’s already the case on a given day. More people read economics blogs than are taking "Principles of Economics" classes in the United States, so why aren’t the blogs already a kind of university? They’ve sort of won that competitive battle in some way.
The people who read the blogs want to read them. A lot of people in "Principles" class, they’re not paying attention, they don’t want to learn, they feel they have to, so blogs are in some ways doing a better job of educating.
While Cowen uses the example of economics, the same can be said about any subject.  People want to know about any number of topics but somehow we have convinced ourselves that the old buildings with ivies crawling on them is the only way to meet that desire to know.  In fact, it increasingly works the other way around--those who come to the universities are some of those who are least interested in learning and are in college only to pick up a diploma.

Cowen has moved beyond blogging itself--to a "university" that offers a whole bunch of videos.  The interviewer signs off with this:
Maybe the biggest impact of upstarts like Marginal Revolution University will be that traditional colleges will feel more like, well, like blogging. Maybe the line between the formality of college education and the informal materials found online throughout one’s life will blur, and maybe those distinctions will just matter less and less. Authority may sound less like a lecture from a podium and more like a Facebook post.
But, are the faculty, who are busily writing books that nobody ever reads, thinking about such important questions as "What’s a university and what is not?"



Ramesh said...

Very true. Education is multi faceted. Well, its always been that way, but the ease of communication today has made this even more stark.

So, its time you started podcasting, vlogging .......

Mike Hoth said...

A university is a place you go to spend lots of money to get a piece of paper. Occasionally you might learn something, too. That's the ideology I got from engineering, the "hard sciences" and psychology when I dabbled in them. I read a textbook, listened to a professor talk about what was in the book, and then took a test about things in the book. Then I wondered why I paid $600 for somebody to tell me what book to buy.

That's why I left those courses behind for geography and history, where the professor (okay, most professors) actually taught me how to think critically about a text and conversed with me about my conclusions. It's more that just reading a book or a blog or watching a video series. I could have read "For Space" or a book on graffiti on my own, but I got something from the courses based on them. I went to class and *gasp* learned something by listening to the professor talk. A blog draws attention to important topics, but successful blogs don't spend 10-12 weeks on the same one!

Sriram Khé said...

My face and my voice together means that both podcasting and vlogging are beyond my reach ;)

"successful blogs don't spend 10-12 weeks on the same one!" is true only if day in and day out the same topic is addressed. But, one can easily imagine a blog dedicated to economic geography, or geopolitics, and the world offers an endless array of issues to blog about daily.
I suppose you are referring to the relative absence of truth being negotiated in the science and engineering world, compared to the ones in which we deal with people. The hard debates over what is "true" is perhaps a major reason why classes become important in the areas you refer to ... but, hey, we can easily have blogs in which we can have spirited discussions, right? ;)

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