Meanwhile, back in America, online education isn’t succeeding because it’s better than Oberlin, it’s succeeding because it’s better than nothing, and nothing is what’s on currently offer for millions of people.
“To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.”
In Why I Just Asked My Students to Put Their Laptops Away, Clay Shirky writes about banning laptops from his fall seminar class. Toward the end of the piece he writes that:
Computers are not inherent sources of distraction — they can in fact be powerful engines of focus — but latter-day versions have been designed to be, because attention is the substance which makes the whole consumer internet go.
That’s the problem in banning them, though. Productive, non-distracted, work from a computer is a cornerstone of modern work. Removing laptops from the college classroom addresses the symptom while doing nothing for the root cause.
Clay acknowledges in his post that computers can allow for a focus so deep you lose track of time. I agree that’s not inherent, though. Rather, it’s a learned skill. If we’re going to ban laptops from college classrooms because students lack that skill we have to also ask when and where that should be taught. Teaching that level of device literacy needs to happen somewhere in the education system.
It’s true (and exciting) that so much knowledge has moved online in the past decade. I can learn basic programming via Treehouse. I can learn web design in a course on Udemy. But what if I want to learn about the physics that drive hardware performance? The materials science behind the next generation of wearable computing? Or what about how to bring electronics manufacturing back to the United States? There are real, fundamental sets of knowledge that are still locked up in traditional academia.