Virtual On-Line Universities

After SJC I spent a year taking math courses at the University of New Haven. Once I made a point in a math class and went up to the blackboard. I guess the class was in shock. The professor was not angry but she explained that such a thing is simply not done. I during that year I realized that no one was forced to exercise skill in speaking, explaining, demonstrating, arguing, questioning or leading. I suppose the only way a few students might get such experience is in a debate society or some other kind of extra curricular activity. Memorizing constantly and regurgitating back during exam time is deadening. In fact, I honestly believe that the same quality education could be had by an on-line college. After all, one may read lectures in pdf or listen to lectures in MP3. Computer programs could exercise students and provide correction and reinforcement. Applications like Skype allow one-on-one counseling. Faculty and students could all work from home. Paltalk provides the ability for voice chat plus chat room typing and also allows participants to raise their hand for a turn at the mic while admins can silence someone so that they may only audit but not participate. Students and faculty can work from home. No physical campus is necessary, no maintenance or security staff. An on-line university could even in theory monitor and log all keystrokes and literally measure each persons time studying and testing. The more gifted students could move through courses quickly while the less gifted could go at a slower pace and request remedial courses. AND, if there were some kind of Paltalk or IRC program for disciplined discussions or preceptorials then on-line students would actually get the practice in reasoning, arguing and expressing themselves which students in traditional colleges do not presently receive. Students in dorms probably spend a tremendous amount of time on-line anyway. And with features like librivox.org , gutenburg.org and Google books physical libraries would be unnecessary. The student body could be scattered around the globe. The size of the student body could be more flexible since it could be small at times and vast at other times without the limitations that traditional infrastructure impose. Perhaps boundaries between different “virtual colleges” would be more fluid. We now have paralegals and paramedics so perhaps the more gifted and industrious students would become paraprofessors absorbing many of the more repetitive and time consuming tasks. Foreign language could easily be handled using native speakers in their native lands for instruction. Students could commence with study even while they are junior or senior high school age. Each student could have a WordPress style blog which would provide a permanent documented footprint of all there courses, essays, grades, questions, advice.

I just now remembered that Abraham Lincoln had about one year of formal schooling. Lincoln’s formal education consisted of approximately 18 months of classes from several itinerant teachers; he was mostly self-educated and was an avid reader. He educated himself each evening after a long day of physical labor. The point I am making is that people can become educated by what little means are available to them. Should it happen that economic problems make traditional colleges and schools no longer feasible then people will still continue to educate themselves by whatever means are available and new paradigms of education will probably involve the Internet and a lot more of students working on their own rather than in a formal classroom or lecture hall setting. The master-apprentice paradigm was popular for centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution. Another paradigm was that of the wealthy patron sponsoring an artist or writer. James Joyce may have been one of the last writers to be sponsored by his patroness Harriet Shaw Weaver. Paradigms change. With regard to a program like SJC Great Books the question becomes “How many people who settle in factory or office jobs will chose to continue their liberal arts pursuits privately?” I once met a cross country truck driver from a rural area in the Bible belt. We talked literally all night because he was deeply troubled about certain religious questions. I marveled that whatever obscure passage of the Old Testament I mentioned to him he could complete the verse for he had learned it by heart yet he had only a high school education. The private pursuit of liberal arts studies for personal enrichment as opposed to earning some academic credential is analogous to those who pursue religion privately. How many people chose such pursuits may depend upon advertising and marketing (see the Cigar DOC).

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