Flashing Lights and “Hacking” Education

Richard Ludlow is modeling his startup on Hulu. | Photograph by Robyn Twomey

I’m a half-hour from boarding a small jet for St. Louis.  A bit of excitement occured a half-hour ago when lights throughout the airport started flashing and an announcer came on saying that an emergency had been delcared, to stand by.  Then it came back that there was a fire, and to please evacuate the airport.  Lots of people started strolling down the concorse, untill some one (a teenager I think) came back against the flow saying, “False Alarm.”  We all turned to reclaim our seats at the gates.  Something wrong with this, though it appears that the alarm was false.  The buzzers only just now stopped blaring (except for the ringing in my ears), but the lights continue to flash.

Anyway, I’ve also gotten through, by way of the Kept-Up Academic Librarian, a fairly good general overview article (How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education) about education reform movement that most of us hear about in small tidbits in our aggregators.  The Fast Company article focuses on higher ed, but it’s a fairly good one-stop shop to send folks to.

Is a college education really like a string quartet? Back in 1966, that was the assertion of economists William Bowen, later president of Princeton, and William Baumol. In a seminal study, Bowen and Baumol used the analogy to show why universities can’t easily improve efficiency.

If you want to perform a proper string quartet, they noted, you can’t cut out the cellist nor can you squeeze in more performances by playing the music faster. But that was then — before MP3s and iPods proved just how freely music could flow. Before Google scanned and digitized 7 million books and Wikipedia users created the world’s largest encyclopedia. Before YouTube Edu and iTunes U made video and audio lectures by the best professors in the country available for free, and before college students built Facebook into the world’s largest social network, changing the way we all share information. Suddenly, it is possible to imagine a new model of education using online resources to serve more students, more cheaply than ever before.

Time to board.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *