Driving Down Ed-cost with E-Education


Detroit                        It is very depressing to read about the inability to make advances in the equity and achievement of all levels of education despite the technological advantages and increasing availability of internet access.  Costs continue to soar at both public and private educational institutions.  E-education options now seem beleaguered by low standards, scams, and reputational issues, even as they should have been developing as real options and opportunities for millions both domestically and globally.  There has to be a way to break through this mess.

I’ve read that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in a final semi-deathbed conversation agreed that they had been surprised that the advent and growth of computers had in fact NOT contributed more to educational progress and attainment.  I was struck by that failure.  I remember when computers were heralded as the new day for education and the question of whether or not classrooms had computer access was sent as a benchmark of progress.  WTF?!?

I read a long, frightening profile on Peter Thiel, one of the rich-as-Croesus Pay Pal co-founders and tech investors, in the New Yorker on the plane the other day.  He had looked into beginning a high-tech, electronic higher educational institution but abandoned the notion even with his big bucks when he reckoned with the huge status pull of elite institutions like Stanford, Harvard, etc, and realized he couldn’t compete.

I find that discouraging, because it is hard to imagine replacing brick-and-mortar with more equitable and affordable electronic access to education with other configurations of the social and public space in communities substituting for “campus life.” if the argument to teachers, students, and, most importantly, future employers about high, demonstrable, and replicable standards are not present and provable.   Teaching to the test doesn’t work, and I’m intrigued by the notions of “education as apprenticeships” to employment opportunities that I’ve seen recently in Cairo and in practice on a lot of union jobsites, but we need a mass model that works and can stand up in the debate.

I was intrigued by a piece several weeks ago in the Times that made the case for e-lectures becoming more popular, but some a lecture has a lot of growing to do in order to shape a curriculum, and the commitment of professors to both the process and the students would have to also be significant to offer an alternatives.

I’m coming up short.  I hope some mega-domes are working hard to solve this problem, and the word just hasn’t trickled down yet to folks like me.