A digital liberal education?

An interesting debate has sprung up between seasoned and visionary minds in education: Stanley Fish and Daphne Koller. I won’t strive to summarize their arguments here, but would instead suggest that it’s best to reflect on them in their entirety.

I will confess that I’m sympathetic to Fish’s long-standing esteem for the liberal model of higher education, and I agree with his criticism that newer digital models lean too heavily towards fact and skill at the sacrifice of knowledge and wisdom. Fish doesn’t use the term “information transmission” in his criticism – but I would contend that this is exactly what he is getting at. By focusing on teaching students facts, we neglect critical life skills that traditionally have been imparted through higher education (though, historically to a chosen few).

Koeller, however, counters with an excellent point that online lectures are a better use a professors time (though I know quite a few that prefer a face-to-face performance to a “cold” recording). Koeller cites UW-Madison as an example of where flipping a classroom can benefit student learning. 

Though flipping may improve outcomes which are tightly defined (skills and knowledge), one wonders how much improvement if any is gained for the knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge and wisdom are two aspects of life development that I am skeptical can happen outside of a residential education.

Perhaps there is value in both arguments – we can find a balance in effectively using the Internet to transmit knowledge and to improve interpersonal communication, while still providing opportunities to develop these more intangible skills. Broadly defined learning outcomes (like the LEAP Value rubrics) may also offer ways to fine tune the college experience, both on and offline.

(Posted via mobile)

2 thoughts on “A digital liberal education?”

  1. I struggle a little with this line:
    “Knowledge and wisdom are two aspects of life development that I am skeptical can happen outside of a residential education.”
    Though I understand have sympathy with this view I’m not sure if this is intrinsic to online or more a reflection on how we do online (both in terms of comparative maturity of our understanding of online ed ) I also feel that we can judge online by criteria that face to face might also struggle with (though we mostly know how one would fix the problem in f2f).
    I also wonder at what point we should prioiritise access over depth (I dislike even thinking about that question but increasingly in my mind refuse to have a debate about quality which doesn’t talk about access a a factor – no critique of your thoughts is intended here, it’s more that that is where my head is at with this debate).
    There is also perhaps a deeper debate about online /offline , degrees of ‘real’, and dualism which lurks in this conversations. I need to read those two pieces that prompted your reflection. Thank you for writing this.

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