Saturday, October 30, 2010

the perils of pithyness; more on capacity and technology

On pithiness
 Having long prided myself on running a dull blog doesn't always protect me from saying dumb but dull stuff.  That is what happened in my last post, which I started as a way of thinking about capacity and infrastructure issues, but which I ended by trying to be pithy.  An anonymous commentator caught the enormous holes in my "cheap schools + cheap technology = deep learning" formulation.  That person wrote:

Your equation lacks one main thing. Quality teaching. And as soon as you add words like quality, the price goes up. So then it is not cheap.

Add to all this the difficulty one has with determining quality. Quality as posed by the other author could be about time on task. But some would argue it is about content knowledge (which is why k-12 teachers now must pass Praxis content tests) or about engagement or community based.

If we could borrow from some of your other posts I would develop a new equation that looks like this:

quality teachers + appropriate contexts + useful technology = deep learning 

to which I can only say "Anonymous, you are absolutely right.  Thanks."

 On capacity
I have been thinking more about the capacity problem in the context of my own community.  Three things are true: 1. we need more educational capacity to reach anything like the goal of having a fully educated workforce; 2. there are no empty campuses sitting around waiting to be populated; 3. there is lots of excess capacity sprinkled throughout the community.  Given these three facts, we ought to think about how to take advantage of the capacity.

Here is what I mean.  In my town, there is a perfectly serviceable theatre that sits empty in the downtown area.  Across the street here and there are unoccupied offices and an un-used gym.  Every town is the same, especially in those areas that were once small towns but have been swallowed up by sprawl (or passed over by it), leaving the downtown area decimated.

Why couldn't a college or university take up that excess capacity, even as it is sprinkled around?  After all, the one thing that technology can surely do is connect disparate places.  So while good learning almost always has a face-to-face component, that doesn't mean that a college has to be contiguous to get that learning.  Offer a theatre program in Pleasant Grove, business classes in the empty space on Main Street in American Fork, and humanities courses in the meeting rooms of the Orem Public Library.  The result is that higher ed fills in some of the excess capacity (in much , the way that Clay Shirky thinks we can leverage the small bits of excess capacity in the days of busy people to jointly solve big problems), expands its reach, and still provides the sort of face-to-face interaction that many potential students desire.  In this scenario, higher ed flows into the open spaces, the unused buildings, and the openings in people's lives, rather than forcing them to flow into ours.  And higher education does its part to strengthen both the intellectual and built infrastructure of our communities.

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