|Why does Friedman keep talking about Mooks? And Koreans? Only time will tell.|
You may think this MOOCs revolution is hyped, but my driver in Boston disagrees. You see, I was picked up at Logan Airport by my old friend Michael Sandel, who teaches the famous Socratic, 1,000-student “Justice” course at Harvard, which is launching March 12 as the first humanities offering on the M.I.T.-Harvard edX online learning platform. When he met me at the airport I saw he was wearing some very colorful sneakers.The sneakers turn out to be a gift from Sandel's 14,000 students in Korea, where he was also asked to throw out the first ball in the baseball season opener, and I imagine to film a [jump]
dance video too. That is, 14,000 wisdom seekers in one amphitheater at Yonsei University in Seoul, not to mention the 20 million hopefuls in China who have watched his subtitled videos but not bought him sneakers.
Anyway I was wondering how you could apply Socratic method to a class of 1,000, not to mention an amphitheater-full. What kind of dialogue do you do in a situation like that? Well, one possibility is that you let the students do it themselves in an indefinitely long comment thread, as in the one excerpted below that has been growing Socratically, it seems, since March 2011, on Robert Nozick and the philosophy of taxes really stink.
I really like that Simran Virk myself, even though I cannot figure out either (a) what language his or her name is in or (b) what it's an anagram of. But if this small exchange is typical—working from Simran's very clear, if eccentrically expressed, bit of Marx to just things that make you go hmmmmmmm—then I for one don't think it will do the job. For one thing, there's no evidence that any of these three has read any of the other 3,000-odd comments, some of which may possibly be helpful. At this rate, though, nobody's ever going to get that slave to come up with the Pythagorean proposition.
|The Socratic method. From Wikipedia. I love that facepalm in the upper left.|
Institutions of higher learning must move, as the historian Walter Russell Mead puts it, from a model of “time served” to a model of “stuff learned.” Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know.And that is exactly the kind of knowledge that you really can't transmit to 20 million people through a video with Chinese subtitles, if you see what I mean. If you want to teach people to do stuff, you just have to have a lab section. Friedman seems to have an idea that the economies created by all the massive open onlinitude will open up some kind of equivalent space in which students in residential colleges will get even more of that hands-on real education than they already do, but I really don't quite see how more declarative knowledge for those 14,000 Koreans translates into more procedural knowledge for the Harvard undergrads.