What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

MOOCS and the Stratification of American Higher Education

May 3, 2013, 10:19 AM
Images_(10)

So Peter Sacks, author of the excellent Generation X Goes to College, explains what's really wrong with the likely MOOCification of higher education.

Studies show that learning through MOOCS and related online delivery systems isn't worse than that through the more traditional or personal ways of teaching, at least according to allegedly reliable quantitative measures.

That "assessment" is more than enough to lead state schools and poorer private schools to embrace  such efficient and effective enough instructional technology.  Students will get the competencies and skills connected with degree completion at an affordable price. There's no particular reason why "for profit" institutions—as long as they're rigorously assessed—shouldn't get involved in this effort to get as many Americans as possible through college.  American education so disrupted will have purged itself of educationally irrelevant amenities, beginning with tenured faculty lounging about insulated from the relevant standards of productivity.

Meanwhile, the richer and more "elite" colleges won't go in this techno-direction.  They will become progressively more personal, emphasizing student "engagement," more luxurious amenities from gourmet food to health-club gyms and edifying internships and study-abroad options that could easily be mistaken for vacations, and undergraduate research.

The elite schools will get better and better and the state schools will get more standardized and commodified, more reliably mediocre.  Actually, that's an optimistic scenario.  If we check out secondary education, we can see that the elite high schools are better than ever, while most high schools are pretty much warehouses for teenagers.  Those two kinds of high schools will pretty predictably feed those two kinds of colleges.  And nobody with eyes to see trusts assessment rubrics to guarantee quality control.

So you still might say there's nothing to worry about here.  Our elite colleges have pretty meritocratic admissions policies, and they're all about "diversity."  They also have lots of financial aid.  But we can also see that our colleges are more stratified than ever when it comes to SAT and IQ.  And we can also see that our "cognitive elite" is separating itself more than ever through choice of schools and all that from the rest of society.  Those who have actually looked at the stats see that diversity at our best colleges is increasingly smart and rich black and white kids being educated together.  Meanwhile, the class divide based on money, education, and brains widens, and there's no real incentive for our best colleges to care.

It's tougher than ever for members of our sinking middle class to be able to do what it takes to get into our best colleges.  Meanwhile, we're going to be about stripping our ordinary colleges with open or semi-open admissions policy of personal features, beginning with tenured faculty, to cut costs.  That means our struggling ordinary guys aren't going to get the personal attention and possible "transformative experiences" that have historically been available on even our ordinary low-tech campuses.  Those most in need of and often deserving of personal encouragement are going to be those least likely to get it.

So Sacks is right that it should offend our meritocratic sensibilities that our elite colleges are now, more than ever, First Class.  And our MOOCified colleges might well be on their way to becoming "steerage" or more and more distant from real higher education.

 

MOOCS and the Stratificatio...

Newsletter: Share: