The fact that you need laboratory experience can be solved by having a student do internships in a laboratory. There are a number of social and technological reasons why online haven’t overwhelmed traditional universities yet, but none of them are unsurmountable.
The big thing that Harvard has going for it is marketing and money. Marketing and money are things that you can overcome.
I’ve been thinking about what MIT will be like thirty years from now, and I think that what will happen is that the Institute will focus at research and hands-on teaching, but that the concept of “undergraduate admissions” will be obsolete. Students will be on campus for intensive one month internships and conferences, and a lot of the students on campus will actually be getting coursework from other places.
The other idea is that conferences like the American Astronomical Society will also have informal schools associated with it. You get your degree online, but one of the requirements is that you must attend professional society conferences. Once you get lots of online students in one place, this will serve as an informal school.
We are going to lead the revolution…..
That’s what Dean Margaret MacVicar said to me in her office in the spring of 1991. Unfortunately, both she and I left MIT in the fall of 1991, and so the revolution has been delayed for a while. But I think wikiversity is going to be the trigger that starts the revolution both at MIT and elsewhere. All of the pieces are there…..
- open courseware through MIT OCW
- lots of academics in industry that want to do academic things
- certification through TESC and Charter Oak
- curriculum models for teaching large number of people thanks to University of Phoenix
- open source software which provides both the technical and social infrastructure
All you need now is one last piece
- A social network of learners and teachers
The important thing about wikiversity is that it gets around the fundamental fallacy of online learning, and that is that learning takes place in classes. Most learning doesn’t take place in classrooms in brick and mortar universities, and there is no reason to expect that it will do so online. Learning takes place in a social environment, and blogs and wikiversity provides that social environment. What drives a university is not the lecture in the classroom, but the thousands of small conversations in the hallways, offices, and study rooms. Most efforts at teaching online focus on that small bit (teacher instruction of students) which is not important in the grand scheme of things, and miss the big bits which involves creating a university environment, and a university experience. If you just walk down the hall of the Infinite Corridor, you see lots of posters and signs, and the materials lab, and just walking down that hallway does things to your mind that contributes to your education. The trick which I think wikiversity will accomplish is that it will be this very messy site where if you browse, you end up having these weird ideas and thoughts attach themselves to you.
The other thing about education is that it fundamentally requires human contact and human context. One of the reasons I started blogging was that I figured out that I couldn’t get anything useful done in education from an anonymous pseudonym. For you to make sense of anything that I say, you *have* to know something about who I am as a human being. One of the weird things that we are going to have to get used to as we move into the 21st century, is that we just have to stop thinking about human beings as machines. I’m not an interchangable part. I have dreams, ambitions, flaws, secrets, and weird idiosyncrasies…… Just like everyone else out there.