[Humanist] 26.303 brave new world & its institutions

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Sep 14 07:32:30 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 303.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2012 11:35:52 -0400
        From: Eric Rabkin <esrabkin at umich.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.258 brave new world & its institutions
        In-Reply-To: <20120829052831.0A2E228A6EA at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

There has been quite a bit of conversation, both in the public press and on
this list, about the validity of online education.  I think a great deal of
the passion arises from a confusion of two functions of our schools:
educating and credentialing.  If our aim is to educate, surely many sorts
of experiences can serve, including watching video clips and reading books
without any teacher or even friend to help at all.  (I, of course, don't
mean that that is a limit to what sort of experience can educate.  Human
interactivity is wonderfully useful and enjoyable.  "School," after all,
comes from a Greek word of "leisure.")  But if we mean to credential, all
sorts of issues arise about standards, evaluative criteria, grading,
cheating, originality, and so on.  We mix these--educating and
credentialing--quite naturally because of the power of interactivity.  We
learn by collaboration, by our experiences with other people, whether we
aim to or not.  That's one reason for this list.  And in cooperation, one
wants to know the other person's character.  One doesn't want to invest
much, perhaps, in a cheater, or work to earn a credential that is cheapened
somehow.  Much of the negative passion on this list about online education,
I think, is motivated in part by a defense of the value of education and a
desire to prevent its cheapening.

But if we can separate educating from credentialing, then the subject is
different.  Even criminals, one hopes in building a "penitentiary," can
learn from their experiences.  It is completely reasonable to ask how we
can preserve the value of credentials, but that is not the same as saying
that to do so is what determines the realization of education.  Third grade
pupils may get gold stars for reading books; we on this list don't, and yet
we read anyway.

As it happens, I am in the midst of offering one of the MOOCs (massive,
open, online courses) that has occasioned the current controversy: "Fantasy
and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World" on the Coursera
platform.  The Cisco Newsroom has just put up a short essay of mine about
that experience which includes a discussion of plagiarism in this context.
 Perhaps some on this list may want to see it:

All best, and, as ever, I thank you for your work for us all,

Eric S. Rabkin
www.umich.edu/~esrabkin  http://www.umich.edu/%7Eesrabkin

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