This story is why I just can’t take seriously the claims that online teaching is teh awesumm future. Nobody pushing this crap knows the first thing about much of anything beyond their own disciplines plus some $hit they read about in Wired magazine back in 1998.
First of all, we have the Stanford University professor and student who clearly have no idea that American higher education is enormously diverse and has evolved over the past two hundred years with little things like the Morrill Act, and that there are things like liberal arts colleges (secular and sectarian), community colleges, public directionals, state flagships, and Agricultural and Mechanical colleges like my employer:
In spring 2005, preparing for that autumn’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge, Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor of robotics, and David Stavens, his undergraduate protégé, arrived in the desert for several months of off-road testing. In tow was their Volkswagen Touareg, “Stanley,” a vehicle that can drive itself.
The Grand Challenge called on American university students to build robotic cars and race them, unassisted, across 131 miles of unforgiving desert scrub, over salt flats and down the treacherous Beer Bottle Pass. The contest was sponsored by the US department of defence, which hopes one day to send driverless vehicles into battle. Thrun and Stavens were counting on Stanley, more than a year in the making, to take home the $2m cash prize. But Stanley—its trunk packed with computers, sprouting radar and GPS antennae from its roof rack—needed a careful debugging.
“We happened to be in the car a lot, doing nothing else but waiting,” Thrun said recently. “Then something would go wrong and one of us would code like crazy. And during those times often there was really nothing to do, so we chatted a lot.”
Bouncing around the desert with their $150,000 toy, Stavens recalls, privilege was a frequent topic of conversation. “It would come up at night, in the hotel rooms of these very small towns we were staying in. ‘This has been a great system for us, higher education, but it’s kind of broken. What can we do?’”
It’s to their credit that they talked about privilege–after all, how many undergrads (or even professors!) get to tool around in the desert for months at a time with a robotic car? I suppose that’s the kind of bubble of privilege that would make you forget–or believe that it’s irrelevant–that American higher education is not Stanford or nothing. But doesn’t this make online courses sound like the dream of Judy Jetson’s flying car? Read the whole article–I’m sure you’ve read at least nine other versions of the same article.
Of course, there’s the ridiculous claim that there hasn’t been any innovation in higher education since the University of Bologna got it all started back in the eleventh century:
As Thrun observed in his Digital Life Design talk, the world’s first university appeared in Bologna in 1088. “At the time, 350 years before Gutenberg, the lecture was the most effective way to convey information.” Then came the printing press, industrialisation, celluloid, the web. “And miraculously, professors today teach exactly the same way they taught a thousand years ago! The university has been, surprisingly, the least innovative of all places in society.”
Why do guys like this get the cushy jobs from which they get the national press to lecture the rest of us scrubs who are actually educating the demos about how to do our jobs? To what extent is the online teaching fantasy a multimillion dollar for-profit robot car crashing around in the California desert? Why do clueless elites like this drive all of our conversations about this?
Because the rest of us are too busy teaching our classes and helping our non-Stanford University eligible students read, write, and think, I guess. Over to you, Jonathan! (If you haven’t been reading Jonathan Rees, then I can’t help you much. He is our vox clamantis in deserto.)