In the September issue of Fast Company magazine, an article entitled “Who Needs Harvard?” gives the low-down on a growing internet trend. With more and more colleges and universities posting their syllabi, lectures, exercises, tests, etc. online, “edupunk” entrepreneurs are actively working on ways to support a new way of gaining an education that’s a lot cheaper than a formal degree program, and arguably more targeted to a learner’s specific needs.
Mmm… There’s a lot to think about regarding this “edupunk” movement. It’s exciting to see all of the material available… I get lost just browsing the titles. But, as author Anya Kamenetz points out, “there’s still a big gap between viewing such resources as a homework aid and building a recognized, accredited degree out of a bunch of podcasts and YouTube videos.”
While I’m not worried that Edupunk will eliminate my job as an adjunct faculty member anytime soon, I realize that I must be at the top of my game as a professor. Because if all I am doing is delivering content – students can get that through other avenues. The value that I provide is my perspective, my guidance in thinking more deeply about a subject, my ability to coach students and encourage them to really wrestle with the challenges of the profession.
But I do wonder if Ms. Kamenetz misses an important point with the comment about whether we can build a “recognized, accredited degree” out of all this. It will be interesting to see over time if people stop worrying so much about aggregating a check-box list of credits for a degree and instead seek to link up with the smartest minds teaching on a given subject and learn in a more open market. If a potential employee could show that he or she studied with known experts and collaborated with them on a variety of projects, would it matter so much if that candidate achieved a specific degree at the end?
We take pride that our degree programs cover a specific set of content and skill areas, but how often do these exactly match what the student really needs at the moment? Would it be better for people to take a longer-term view of their learning and continue to build their skills as they need them rather than complete a once-and-done degree program? We might argue that people need a broad grounding even if they don’t immediately apply their learning, but lots of theory and research basically says “use it or lose it.” And given the rapid rate of change, grounding that isn’t used immediately will become dated pretty quickly.
So how will professors of the future offer their expertise to continue to build our profession? Will we be able to offer our support to students seeking to build depth in our areas of expertise through an open system? (Note to self: must be at the top of my game to be the kind of professor these students will seek out!) I kind-of like this idea, and will be keeping my eye out for ways to opt in to this new system as it develops. Or maybe I can carve my own niche now? Maybe I, too, can be “edupunk.”
Mmm…. Comments welcome!