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January 13, 2009


Slaney Black

The delta of experience between attending a lecture and watching a video of a lecture?

True. But the delta of a small-group seminar vs. a lecture? 1,000,000%.

Whether you do this online or in person, or in person with an electronic component, it does not mean less teachers.

It does mean making more efficient use of teachers, and above all cutting useless administrative overhead and sick academic culture that treats teaching as the prestige equivalent of cleaning the toilet.

The whole political economy of the university accreditation system needs work. Technology alone can only carry so much of that burden.

Trust me, I've taught. Most university education (inc. these MIT courses) is done by slave-labor grad students and adjuncts. Labor cost of faculty is the least barrier to entry for higher education.

Costs are mostly driven by
1. oligopoly pricing,
2. overhead for intellectual property (the cost of stocking a decent library is criminal, especially when no one actually gets rich off 99% of the books),
3. maleconomies of scale (because aforementioned oligopoly encourages inefficient bigness)
4. physical plant (major component of #3)

Like I said in a previous post, the best education I got was a 4 faculty member study abroad program housed in an old convent. Way more useful interaction and less overhead.

Nicer IT might have made it even better and increased its geographic reach, but the basic virtue was it operated according to a political economy that just isn't available (yet) in US higher education.


I think text books were supposed to accomplish the same thing you suggest for videos. In today's world, videos should be better than texts.
For me the key comes in a quick comment you make about simulations. Put students immediately into an environment where they have to act on what they are learning. This solidifies and enhances the learning.

Iterations between text, video, and simulations.

I also agree that facilitated small-group work, better in-person than on-line, also enhances the learning process.

There are distinct possibilities here, but not simple to implement. Particularly not simple in the current academic culture (as you note).

Mohan Narendran

Good link and comments. I think these approaches are equally applicable, if not more so, to teaching in primary and secondary schools. Throw in the upcoming multitouch desktops and game-like immersive virtual environments (many are also open source), and kids could get really engaged with these new modes of learning from early on.


I will believe we are serious about education when we have at least one TV/cable channel devoted to teaching basic literacy and numeracy 24/7. The bandwidth is available and the need is there (even in the USA) but the only time I've heard this mentioned is when Duke, the Doonesbury cartoon character was campaigning for President.

Basic literacy and numeracy worldwide would also be a very, very good idea.


You wrote: "There's very little need to attend a school in person. Geographic decentralization is possible (at a huge reduction in expense). There's also little need for most of the teachers at the mid to upper levels of education."

Labs. Those cannot be done at home in the dorm or apartment or rent's house.

Asking difficult questions, or questions of clarification, or a different explanation of a concept?

All these are part and parcel of the interaction between teacher and student in the sciences.

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