Here’s a great read by EVAN SELINGER and ANDREW PHELPS. This is just a short excerpt, but you can read the full article over on Wired.
The Golden Age of universities may be dead. And while much of the commentary around the online disruption of education ranges from cost-benefit analyses to assessing ideology of what drives MOOCs (massively open online courses), the real question becomes — what is the point of the university in this landscape?
It’s clear that universities will have to figure out the balance between commercial relevance and basic research, as well as how to prove their value beyond being vehicles for delivering content. But lost in the shuffle of commentary here is something arguably more important than and yet containing all of these factors: culture.
Online courses can be part of, and have, their own culture, but university culture cannot be replicated in an online environment (at least not easily). Once this cultural difference is acknowledged, we can revisit the cost-benefit analysis: Is cheaper tuition worth it if it pays for education that isn’t optimized for innovation? Will university culture further stratify the socioeconomic difference MOOCs may level? And so on…
While innovation is a buzzword that’s bandied about a bit too loosely, we think this is the lens we need to use in judging the relevance of universities. It’s the only thing that prevents us from programming students as robots, a workforce whose jobs can be automated away. In fact, universities that excel at preparing students for such a creative economy prioritize the same three things that drive successful startup cultures: density, shared resources, and community.
Density can be pricey, but it has always produced the best results — both in the physical world, and even in designing something like an MMORPG. Silicon Valley wouldn’t have risen to preeminence without ongoing ties to Stanford and Berkeley (and several other schoolsengaged in its community). A big part of that is the cultural connection and engagement that those campuses bring to the entrepreneurial and creative process, and the physical proximity and flow of those communities in densely packed areas.
To unleash the potential of nurturing communities and physical proximity, the right kind of density is required. Bars, eateries, and coffee shops are important, as are housing, central academic facilities, and ‘social spaces’ of all varieties. But a Coursera or EdX course is a long way from the community feel of even a World of Warcraft raid, to say nothing of the culture embedded in design studios. Indeed, the collaborative potential of 35,000 students in a shared environment is almost entirely untapped in the current MOOC model and doesn’t seem to be entering the agenda any time soon.
Check out the full article on Wired.