Thursday, September 20, 2012

Free Information & the Future of Higher Ed

The Chronicle of Education recently described some attempt by publishers to gain profit from MOOCs (massively open online courses) by producing textbooks for them:
I find this rather amusing.
First of all, there is so little to be made from authoring textbooks now... what's the point. 

Second, I have already taught four different courses without a textbook, simply because no suitable texts existed; e.g. intro nanophysics, physics of energy, physics of the human body, and history of physics. This created no problems for the students; on the contrary, most of them seemed grateful.
Yes, when teaching without a textbook, one has to spend more time assembling reading lists and articles, but students can participate in that, and it's a good exercise for them to learn how to identify reliable sources.

The bottom line, which continues to evade some of my colleagues in higher ed, is that information is basically free now. Those who try to attach cost to it are simply in the wrong decade, fighting the wrong battle. Wake up and smell the terabytes. Higher ed is not about attaching cost to information any more: students can download information. But take heed: students cannot download the experiences that motivate them most. Institutions that realize this and emphasize experiential education will prosper; those that don't will fail.

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