Reinventing Education (Part 1)

This is a topic I’ve been sitting on for a while, which may be of particular interest to anyone out there who teaches online, or is/was a student at an online university.

A little bit of relevant personal background — typically, I teach an online class once per semester, and one in the summer. Online education has been at the front of my mind recently, as I’ve been overhauling my online classes.

I’ve often wondered if those who have completed degrees online felt they’ve had an equivalent experience to their traditionally-educated peers. I can imagine that, these days, the answer is more likely to be “yes”. Certainly online education has had more time to mature.

Listening to debates on the matter reminds me of the great ebook / traditional book divide. I often hear complaints about how ebooks don’t have the smell and texture of print books. Holding an ereader “just isn’t the same” as holding a print book.

On the other hand, the content is the same. Have you ever heard something like, “I finished The Hunger Games and I just loved the way the book smelled!” Once the reading experience is over, how much does the medium leave a memorable impression?

College, on the other hand, is a bit more complex. After all, college life usually sits in the gray area between childhood and adulthood. It would be hard to argue that the experience of campus life doesn’t leave a lasting impression on the student. It would also be hard to argue that campus life is the only way to obtain many of the same experiences, or is appropriate for everyone. Who lives in a dorm at 30?

The deeper question is of the longer-term implications of online education. With final exams this week, I’ve yet to find time to gather my own thoughts. However, I’ll leave a question for interested parties to ponder.

If you haven’t heard of them yet, The New Yorker published an article about the world of the MOOCs back in 2013. Massive Open Online Courses could open up the doors of places such as Harvard, Yale, MIT, and other big-name schools — courses and lectures which used to be available to only a select few — to the nation and world. On the other hand, they could potentially centralize education, stripping away academic freedom and reducing many professors to classroom aides, much like teaching assistants at larger universities.

Where do you think the world of the MOOC is headed — and is its direction a positive one?

Little Finds, Part 2

April can be a fun month; summer is around the corner, and so I’m starting to plan what I’d like to accomplish with my time off. There’s the NC Pickle Festival right next door. (Literally — the concert is in the field on the other side of the street from my house), decent weather, and rivers of pollen.

I also turned 31 on Wednesday. I think I’m supposed to start minding getting older, but I really don’t. But I’m also generally happy with the decisions I’ve made up until now, and that helps. Even if I had made some major mistakes, 31 is not too old to change them. When I teach over the summer, it’s always non-traditional classes. I have students in their 40’s and 50’s completing changing their careers. If they could pull it off at 50, I could pull it off at 31 if I wanted to.

But I don’t. In part, finding happiness comes down to what I was always told growing up, education education education. Having a good education won’t necessarily make you happy, but it at least teaches you that you’ll have to get off your butt and go find happiness; it won’t find you. And that’s probably a good thing. Things you have to work for are things you are more likely to be in control of. You know what you have to do; go do it. If you have to wait, you don’t have control; you’re at someone or something else’s mercy.

As much as I like to make fun of itThe Handbook really does have some good advice. Epictetus’s version may be a little more helpful than my own, but I still like The Philosophy of the Many Hands.

With the academic year winding down, I’ve had little time to think about other matters. Still, I’ve found a couple interesting things I’d like to point out. Until next time, enjoy!

TL;DR of the Day

Reading an entire Wikipedia page can be mentally exhausting, so, thankfully, it now comes in “Cliff’s Notes” form. Why not check out TL;DR Wikipedia?

latte is a brewed beverage made by adding five dollars to a cup of coffee.
TL;DR Wikipedia

Spreeder of the Day

As you’re reading, how much do you pronounce the words in your head as you move along the text? Did you just “say” this line aloud in your mind?

The website claims it can help you not subvocalize words as you read them. I can’t say I’ve tried it long enough to really see if it works, but it’s been amusing to play with.

I’d be interested in hearing if the exercise makes any difference.

For myself, Subvocalization is more of a handicap when it comes to learning foreign languages. I think I had an easier time with Spanish than German, but growing up in Houston, TX had exposed me to more Spanish as well. I struggled with German, in part because I couldn’t pronounce the words.

Then again, I also took my German courses at 8:00am. Do you think I’m a morning person?