review: diy u … viewing the end of college as we know it?

When a faculty reading circle announced the selection and discussion of Anya Kamenetz’s DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, I was more than a bit intrigued. I’d read great things about the book and here was an excuse to check it out … as well as see what colleagues think.

Reaction? Wow. So much food for thought! I didn’t totally agree with everything within the pages, but a few major themes and threads emerged that I’ve pondered quite a bit. They include:

The separation of content from delivery in education. Just as iTunes decoupled individual songs from the traditional album distribution model and Hulu divorces shows from networks and the usual delivery method, the Internet has placed countless opportunities for learning at our fingertips either free or at marginal cost. These range from the sophisticated (MIT’s free broadcasting of classes online) to the homegrown (semi-instructional YouTube videos), but all represent a challenge to the traditional authoritarian delivery system. The regular college experience remains popular, but is knowledge now more of a buyers’ than sellers’ market?

The opportunities of technology. Instead of seeing technology is a threat to education, should we look at it as a tremendous opportunity? Twitter and Facebook have revolutionized my ability to create/maintain friendships and share/gain information, YouTube and Skype have redefined video communication and cloud computing kicked collaboration wide open. As educators, we shouldn’t fear the power of these tools; we should figure out how they can help us deliver an enhanced academic experience.

Is the traditional college experience for everyone? At the risk of sounding cliche, I value my college years as much (or more?) for what I learned outside the classroom. It was a key developmental milestone for me — from shy country boy to socialized (read: slightly less shy) scholar with the confidence to find my own path. Anyone who wants that experience should have a chance, but does everyone want (or need) four years of college? What about shorter specialized programs that fill vital needs? And as someone pointed out in our discussion, our non-traditional students don’t gain the residential college experience, yet they still thrive from pursuing their educations.

The trouble with rankings. How many people complain about the US News rankings, yet put out a news release on their listing? The book raises serious points to ponder. Like how raising tuition (i.e. higher expenditures per student) helps a college’s rating. Or that chasing a certain academic profile could mean shutting out promising students from disadvantaged backgrounds who need education most. We all believe in acaedmic quality, but how do we weigh pursuing high rankings and fruitful access at the same time? (And Malcolm Gladwell checked in this week with his problems with US News ratings.)

The faculty discussion was fascinating as well. Some blasted some of its more controversial suggestions and offerings. Others very much agreed with the challenges and opportunities Kamenetz laid out. I just appreciated the conversation taking place at all, which in itself demonstrates that DIY U is a remarkable read.


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One response to “review: diy u … viewing the end of college as we know it?

  1. Terrific takeaways from a good read. As I read DIY U, I found myself agreeing with many of the author’s points. At the same time, I was troubled by the thought that our current cost models are not sustainable in a world where educational opportunities are so easily and cheaply accessible. Philosophically, I agree with the idea of providing open and affordable access to education and information, and I agree that our institutions of higher learning should embrace the opportunities technology provides (just as you suggest). I suspect that the edupunk vision will never be fully realized, simply because punks of any stripe seem to have a tough time organizing things šŸ™‚ and because the entrepreneurial sorts will latch on to those good ideas and figure out a way to make money from them.

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