July 4, 2010

iCollege and Educational Consumerism

I grew up in Minnesota and still have many relatives who live there, so I was intrigued by this interview of Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota (“pawlenty of trouble,” according to my relatives), by Jon Stewart. Pawlenty is articulate and clear in his points, affable, even. But to equate education with other service deliveries, to say, download a lecture on your iPad like you might choose a vegetable from a display, so misses the point. Not that I think there isn’t a lot broken about our institutions of higher education…there is. But to call students “consumers,” which is already common in academe, and to view discrete lectures on economics or Spanish as interchangeable with pants or shirts on a rack, takes away the interchange, the discussion, and the challenge that ought to be at the heart of the educational process. This iCollege idea mocks the academic effort in a way that is at once necessary–by pointing to the already “sales-heavy” approach to college, and the often lousy teaching that goes on there–and also scary, because Pawlenty is not being ironic; he means this. I agree that information technologies can be used to great effect by a variety of learners, but the face-to-face interactions, and the layers of disciplinary insights within an academic setting are crucial for creative, responsible learning.