Two Tier: Already Here

Hah! I look down on you, you apples!

Hah! I look down on you, you apples!

I was reading a Chronicle of Higher Ed article “For Whom is College Being Reinvented” and it was sobering reading. While I was writing yesterday about Oxford and Cambridge wanting to maintain their conventional University stance, Robert Archibald, an Economics Professor from the College of William and Mary, points out that the two tier system is already here in terms of good conventional and bad conventional – so that we would see an even larger disparity between luxury and economy courses. Getting into the “good” colleges will be a matter of money and prior preparation, much as it is many areas where the choice of school available to parents is increasingly driving residential moves in the early years of a child’s life. But it doesn’t end there because the ‘quality’ measure may be as much about the employability of the students after they’ve completed their studies – and, as the article says, now we start have to think about whether a “low-level” degree is then preferable to an “industry recognised” apprenticeship or trade training program. Now, our two tiers are as separate as radiographer and radiology but, as Robert Reich also observes in the same article, this is completely against what we should be doing: how can we do all this and maintain real equality between degrees and programs?

Of course, if you didn’t go to a great elementary and senior school, then, despite being on the path to the ‘second-tier’ school, which might be one that naturally migrates to a full electronic delivery for a number of perfectly reasonable economic reasons, you are probably someone who needs a more customised experience than a ‘boilerplate’ MOOC could offer: you actually need face-to-face. When we talk about disruption of the existing college system, we always assume that this is a positive thing, something that will lead to a better result for our students, so these potential issues with where these new technologies may get focused start to become very important.

For whom will these new systems work? Everyone or just the people that we’re happy to expose them to?

It’s perhaps the best question we have to frame the discussion – it’s not about whether the technology works, we know that it works well for certain things and it’s now matter of making sure that our pedagogical systems are correctly married to our computer systems to make the educational experience work. But, obviously, and as many much better writers than I have been saying, it has to work and be at least as good as the systems that it’s replacing – only now we realise that existing systems are not the same for everyone and that one person’s working system is someone else’s diabolically bad teaching experience. So the entire discussion about whether MOOCs work now have to be framed in the context of ‘compared to what‘?

It’s an interesting article that poses more questions than it answers, but it’s certainly part of the overall area we have to think about.

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