IT and Higher Ed

11 May 2012 at 10:45 am 4 comments

| Peter Klein |

Joshua Gans’s Forbes piece on Stanford’s online game theory course brought up a larger point about higher education. I’ve been involved in various online, distance, web-based educational activities for many years. When designing an online course, the typical professor imagines each element of a traditional course, then creates a virtual equivalent. I.e., paper syllabus = html syllabus; books, articles, handouts = pdf files; classroom lecture = webcast lecture; office hours = chat session; pen-and-paper exams = online exams; and so on. The elements are exactly the same as before; only the method of delivery has changed.

This is almost certainly the wrong way to leverage the information technology revolution. The pedagogy is exactly the same. But isn’t this just what we would expect of entrenched incumbents? The record companies didn’t create iTunes. The online New York Times is pretty much like the paper New York Times; it took Google and Flipboard and other innovators to revolutionize the newsreading business. As we’ve noted before, isomorphism and stasis is exactly what we would expect from a protected cartel — disruptive innovation, in the Christensen sense, will almost certainly come from outside. (Hopefully after Yours Truly is comfortably retired.)

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Education, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Teaching.

With the Pols Coase on NPR

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mikemarotta  |  11 May 2012 at 8:37 pm

    In a hundred years, we have gone from the steamship to the spaceship but education still consists of one person lecturing to a passive array of listeners.

    … disruptive innovation, in the Christensen sense, will almost certainly come from outside. (Hopefully after Yours Truly is comfortably retired.)

    Well, I was sort of hoping that you would one of the true innovators… Having taught in both the public and private sector myself I learned to appreciate the difference between performance-based training and classroom education I still look for new ideas. The American Society for Training and Development is not much farther ahead of the university classroom, but they are somewhat farther down the road.

    Maybe the problem begins with content. A better way to teach algebra accepts “algebra” (textbook, story problems,…) as the given. Maybe the lesson plan would be to design games with the algebra a given within the software, with no need to explain the math, any more than we were required to turn oak gall into ink …. though people can and do major in chemistry and work for firms that make dyes.

  • 2. Richard O. Hammer  |  15 May 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Peter’s account reminds me of a pattern which I believe I’ve noticed. Allow me to publish my finding here and save the hassle of submissions.

    When a new medium opens up, the first uses of the new medium are often uses that could have been performed through older, established media. First uses do not take advantage of all the new power offered. For example, when TV newscasting became available (around 1950 as I recall) the shows consisted of reporters sitting and talking into microphones – just as they had already been doing for radio. The news show was produced in the same way, except the reporter needed to dress up. Only gradually did TV news become more visually interesting. The whole industry of producing visual content had to be invented.

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  15 May 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Good analogy, Rich, thanks!

  • […] posted last week on Organizations and Markets about the tepid,and entirely predictable, reaction of the higher education establishment to the […]

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