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Stacey Simmons

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Unify universities into networks that take advantage of each other's expertise.

Universities can no longer be universal. We must instead eliminate the competition between colleges and universities and instead create collaborative systems that allow for sharing across institutional lines. Let students choose, and let schools recognize their peers. What instead has happened is that empire building happens in the development of great institutions, but there are far too many specialties for a single institution to be able to contain specialists in every domain. So instead we must collaborate across institutional lines in teaching these specialties without having to require students to move around the country to study a specialty that they only THINK they might be good at or adapt to.

How do we take the idea of an Open Education and give credit for it? An open education is wonderful, but it is not YET possible to act as a democratizing force, because the system still respects a degree above experience, unless the experience is extraordinary.

It is possible, but it is so difficult to become extraordinary unless you are associated with an extraordinary place. This geospatial hegemony is unfair. Some people don't want to, or cannot leave where they are, they should not be kept from participating in creative, intensive study, learning, and productivity.


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  • Oct 7 2011: Hi Stacey,

    I jumped to Omnicademy and clicked on your photo. WoW, you are only 11 and have achieved so much. :-)

    My understanding of MIT OCW model is to release the lecturers and allow anyone anywhere free personal use. But to get a degree, MIT degree in particular, one has to have studied at MIT (I don't know if anyone can take MIT course as a distance). That's their business model. I think most university will have some model like that in order to survive.

    Collaboration is good as an ideal, but business decision will mean real collaboration is few, far in between and difficult to get management approval. A second class university would love to collaborate with first class universities, but not vice versa.

    However, I deeply believe that the current education system in developed countries are broken - from secondary to university. When information is just clicks away and search is ubiquitous, a model based on passing on knowledge is out-of-date.

    We must recognize the roles university play, (1) as a gate to sort people, (2) as information keeper and (3) creating new knowledge. An open university (base on distance learning techniques) can serve (1) more broadly and fairer. Function (2) has long gone. At the moment (3) is distinguishing factor of the rating of universities and it won't change for a while.

    While I admire your ideal, my experience told me that there is a long and hard road ahead.
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      Oct 9 2011: RE: gate to sort people - functionally this is done by credentialing some, rejecting others. What we truly need as a corollary to your idea, Stacey, is an open credentialing system. Every degree needs to be standardized, and what it takes to acquire must be testable (a la CLEP). Perhaps the US Department of Education could underwrite such a project.
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        Oct 27 2011: Hi Ed, I would love to figure out how to do that. I agree, a credentialing system would be great. Our system allows the colleges and universities to accent their peers- selling downstream and collaborating in parallel. Please tell me more of what you're thinking, I'd love to hear more.
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      Oct 27 2011: Albert, it is difficult. But the outcome of a university experience is sorting, not the goal. Credentials, education, workforce development, original research, these are all important. However, the esoteric knowledge needs to be kept in a university because we can't know when we will have need of it. The problem is that the workforce and original research areas need to be duplicated, while the esoterica needs to be maintained until it needs to be exploited. Universities can't afford to be universal.
      • Oct 28 2011: Confucius's idea of education is not passing on knowledge nor enhancing career opportunities. It is about the development of personal character and potential. I think he was right 2500 years ago and is still valid.

        We are transitioning into an information era (some may argue we are at the information era already) - where information are just clicks away. The frontier of knowledge is hard work and today's first degree hardly equip anyone to do any of that sort. Research institute is definitely needed for any country to remain competitive. For those aspired to do frontier work in knowledge, there is a long road ahead.

        For most people, we want a good life. A decent job and a decent reward, to live in peace, without hunger and a shelter. Does a university qualification lead to that? It used to be, but I think it is more and more likely that a university qualification cannot.

        That said, can a common people do some original work? Definitely, but...

        I think R&D should stand for "repeat and duplicate". The first step for innovation is to understand the current frontier and be able to do what those at cutting edge can do. That's the "repeat and duplicate" part. Only after one can repeat and duplicate, one can embark on improving the process, the theory and/or methodology. That's the cutting edge.

        There are areas in which the cutting edge are very costly and need to be well funded. Universities and research institutes are places for that to happen. Other cutting edge can be low cost, like theoretical physics - you just need a piece of paper, a pencil and good books. In these cases, are the cutting edge still clicks away?

        - to be continued
      • Oct 28 2011: Traditionally, university took a dual role - as knowledge keeper (and developer) and dissemination of knowledge. The side effect is of course the award of degrees and hence has been co-opted as a gate-keeper and sorting of people.

        In a world of increasing automation, repetitive work is decreasing at alarming rate. Automation means reliable repeat of work. If the work requires low skill level, they tend to be out-sourced to area of the world where living standards are lower. For citizens in developed world, if we want to maintain living standard, we *have* to engage in cutting-edge knowledge development, trouble-shooting and/or high-value work. What are these? That may be the billion dollar question the answer of which every politician is looking for.

        In my ideal world, there should be no intellectual property right. (I should have patented my surname - that would make me rich!) Knowledge is openly shared, tested, modified, improved and shared back. Universities and research institutes are tasked to continue to work on costly cutting edge work. Knowledge dissemination can be automated (through OCW initiatives etc) and people's qualifications are obtained via criteria-based public testing.

        In the above discussion, I have missed one of the MOST important value one can get from an on-campus education - the building of human network, of like-minded people with similar skill set.
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        Oct 29 2011: Stacey ,in the Jesuit system, we have from elementry school to post-doctoral studies, going trough all levels in the aboriginal structures in every country that we are present. The university has a peculiar history and the "esoteric" content is well keeped as a seed. Remember that we start when Saint Ignatius begin to teach children in Rome (in the very same place when years latter the Colegio Romano was builted). We took the energy from Trivium & Quadrivium and we transform in the Ratio. This transformation was possible by the jesuit original approach to education: MAGIS...this word means the better, the great, (mag=magnificent and excellent) and for us mean also transformation (not change) magister= magis=magic..In the Jesuit universities, we almost are universal.

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