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Megan Summers

Impact Entrepreneurship Group


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Is the internet, not formal education, the new great equalizer?

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery. – Horace Mann


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    Oct 6 2011: The internet is a powerful tool in self-education. I personally am only in university because I need an Honors/ PhD to do research, but when I actually study, I prefer searching the internet or reading books and journal articles as opposed to relying on lectures.

    I can't help but feel that the rigidity of high school (even in Australia) wasted my potential. I spent most of my youngest and brightest years learning about things I didn't care about and would never use again. So little of high school stuck that before I started university I spent months re-learning maths from decimals to calculus, and my main resource was — you guessed it — the internet.
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      Oct 6 2011: Hi Desi,

      Thanks for the input! I'm in a similar situation in Canada. When there is a multitude of information at your fingertips, I find it hard to have to learn topics out of context (ie. learning about developing countries from a comfortable lecture hall or statistics for research three years before I'd be doing the research).

      Take care,

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        Oct 6 2011: Exactly! Context and application are a big deal. If what I'm learning seem a bit abstract, I just pop over to read ScienceDaily and all of those concepts are grounded in the tangible.

        Sometimes it makes you feel bad though. I read something about Todd Rider and friends creating a drug that could target and destroy basically any virus by finding the viruses' double-stranded RNA. I thought, "Leave some for me!"
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      Oct 6 2011: Hi Desi ... I think the point that needs to be made is that there are levels of education (Elementary or Primary, Secondary and Tertiary) - and you feel that your secondary education was of little value to you. However, it is the secondary stage - where you were assisted (although quite possibly not with the greatest attention to affective domain) to make the neural connections that you are now using at the Tertiary Level. In some ways, its a shame that metacognition is not given a higher priority in high schools - although to some students that in itself may lead to resentment as yet another "irrelevant" subject.

      I don't know what subject, or what university, you are enrolled - but I'd nearly bet money that if you're in a science rather than liberal arts faculty, you're going to find as you travel the journey that the Internet will not meet your tertiary education needs as much as your campus's library OPAC.
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        Oct 6 2011: I understand the point you're making in the first paragraph, but I'd venture to disagree. Whatever I learned in high school, I learned from the many, many books I read and from off-topic class conversations that my teachers liked to have, and very little from the schooling itself. I generally consider my 'real' secondary education to have taken place when I completed my apprenticeship and became a qualified Pastry Chef; in the battleground of a kitchen, I learned more about myself and my limitations than I could have in any other setting.

        You're right in saying that the OPAC is useful (I am now in Biomedical Science), but even this is being supplanted by online resources. Sites like PLoS ONE and other journal databases provide easy access to relevant journal articles, there are many professionals who provide online resources (some universities have publicly accessible tutorials that I've found through Google), and even my uni library provides pre-paid access to journal articles, chemical handbooks, and so on.
    • Oct 6 2011: Desi, I agree with your take on formal education vs. the Internet. Most of what I use to make my living is self-taught; I did take college courses but they were mostly of the general education variety and not specialized. Do i ever use what I learned? Maybe. Some of the business management classes were helpful to understand people and their motivation. Most of my technical classes were outdated by the time I took them.

      I have toyed with the idea of returning to college to complete my formal education, as an increasing number of employers are requiring that piece of paper saying you have done your time and paid your fees. However, I am about five years from retirement, and the cost of completing my education would put me into debt at a time where debt is a real issue. Therefore, I will continue my self-directed learning and hope that more enlightened employers will continue to hire talented personnel without a formal diploma.
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        Oct 6 2011: There's a lot of value in what I'm learning presently so I have no real beef with university. The Australian Government also subsidises science students very heavily since this country has a shortage of them, which means I only have debt of around $5,500 per year. That's also very nice. =D

        I suppose what I'm saying is that I wish high school had the open-endedness of university. I would have gone hard into the sciences and technology instead of getting mired in the mess of postmodernist English.
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      Oct 6 2011: I am from a village close to Frankfurt and 21 years old studying Biophysics in 3rd semester. Im my experience school gives an idea about what exists out there. This is its Job and I think it is enough, that it is not the main purpose of University to do the same think on a deeper level for the sake of forgetting it again because I can't apply it to a real problem. I am glad, that it was no all day school, because then i would not have my IT skills I have today. I hat also some teachers who did some very free projects in History or discussions in english, math or politics which were a great experience. But all the facts and skills i got from the internet.

      Now I am at University and learning about electrodynamics for the 2nd time. Why? Well to forget and relearn it again when i might need it after Masters or PhD. I am only glad, that then I can use the same material from khan academy to do it.

      @ Amanda: As a young student, my experience is that the internet can replace University at least to Bachelors. And it definitely replaces my campus library, because a good part of the Books are available as PDF. I could need some help with learning biomolecular methods in the Lab, but that has to wait till masters (if i am lucky). So right now University almost useless besides connecting to other people during lectures. I am curious what tertiary education needs I have to expect, which can not be met by the Internet.
      The only thing I can think of are face to face discussions (although ted is doing a nice job here) and lab material + experience, which is not accessible to me and this will not change in near future.

      @ Desi: I always had some feeling that it is good to experience a real world problem to realize that the basics are missing. But I could't give this feeling a name. Context and Application hits the nail on the head. I think I am in the same situation: I am at University to get a PhD which I can put in my CV.
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        Oct 7 2011: Besides making information available, the internet should also be credited as a vehicle for inspiration just as books are. I decided to go to university after reading a book (Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time'), and two videos (Brian Greene's What's The Big Idea? speech [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu-_PvllpJc], and one of Richard Feynman's interviews [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj4y0EUlU-Y].

        These two men, along with many others I've learned of along the way (like Norman Borlaug), provide me with excellent role models as a person and as an aspiring scientist.
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          Oct 7 2011: Read the same book and i really like Feynman :-D

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