Twofish's Blog

August 6, 2006

At the airport – Olin College

Filed under: academia, wikipedia — twofish @ 8:55 pm

I’m at Logan right now.  The airport is closed, and I’ll try to get some sleep before the plane leaves.  I’ve posted some ideas on the Wikiversity page, and the idea I’m proposing is that Wikiversity provide the social networks that are necessary for academic learning and research.  The missing piece is not the curriculum, it’s the vast network of academic support staff that does all of the thousands of things that make it possible for academics to do their research.

I made the comment to a reporter that is was easier for me to start my own university than to go into traditional academia.  This is quite true.  I talked to someone from Olin College which is a startup college.  The amount of seed capital necessary to start up the university was $500,000 and 300 students which is tiny in the corporate world.  What Olin College did have is name-power.  You don’t need too much money to start the university, but you do need people with high academic status, once you have people with status, you can get the money.

The question then becomes how do you break into the status if you don’t have high status.  Fortunately, the people that control academic status aren’t the universities.  Academics care surprisingly little about where you got your degree.  What determines status in academia is a publication record involving peer reviewed papers.  The gatekeepers really aren’t the universities, they are the peer review panels and the professional societies.  So what I need to do is to focus on publication of papers in quantitative finance.  Publishing one or two papers won’t get me “star” status, but the goal here is to have enough papers that I have some small amount of street credibility.  I probably have enough credibility enough already to start tutoring students, and I need to do some research into trying to figure out what hoops a students needs to jump through in order to get a “open architecture” physics bachelor’s degree.

One other point is that people laughed when I mentioned that “accredition isn’t as difficult as people think it is.”  It isn’t.  If you go to a regional or subject accreditator, they have a checklist that you can literally to through to make sure that your school is accreditted.  The main thing that accreditation involves is that the school as a statement of its goals, and the resources to achieve those goals.

This is one of the purposes of learning.  It liberates your mind.  People aren’t comparing Wikiversity to Harvard, people aren’t thinking about training CEO’s, particle physicists, and brain surgeons through Wikiversity.  They should be thinking about it.  The most important thing is to ask the right questions.  Why *can’t* Wikiversity be comparable to Harvard?  Money?  Power?  Prestige?  Sure, but you can get money, power, prestige.  How much money, power, and prestige did google or ebay have fifteen years ago?  And if the issue is money, power, and prestige then we need to talk about the dynamics of money, power, and prestige.

Why can’t you teach brain surgeons?  Well you need a hospital and other brain surgeons.  Why can’t you build one?  Well you need money.  Why can’t you get money?  OK Wikiversity can’t teach brain surgeons tomorrow, what about five years from now?  Ten years from now?  Fifty years from now?  A hundred years from now?  Well we can’t think that far ahead.  Well why not?  We have immediate problems.  Well, yes, but if you don’t think in terms of long term strategy, then how are you going to decide how you do the near term stuff?

The big piece is that money, power, and prestige are ultimately based on social networks and social capital, and wikis create social networks and social capital.  The thing is that knowledge is not about texts, it’s about people, and its important to talk about how people interact, and the fact that wikis create communities is why they are potentially explosive.


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