Education, Google, and Technology

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gillbilly's picture
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Joined: Oct 22 2012
Posts: 423
Education, Google, and Technology

Here is an interesting article written by a struggling adjunct professor about the state of education, how Google and MOOCs play a role in the erosion of the middle class, and how technology will eventually reach us all.

I've quoted Jaron Lanier many times in the past on this site but this one stands out in this article:

The problem is, as Lanier points out, that we are not living in an informal economy, simply suffering with the income of an informal hiring system.  This informal, casualized labor situation puts far too many people, across all professions, into a terrible situation when they crash up against the formal economy we actually LIVE in — that’s the economy where you must still use cold, hard cash to pay for your housing, your utilities, your food, your healthcare.

“It was all a social construct to begin with, so what changed… is that at the turn of the [21st] century it was really Sergey Brin at Google who just had the thought of, well, if we give away all the information services, but we make money from advertising, we can make information free and still have capitalism. But the problem with that is it reneges on the social contract where people still participate in the formal economy. And it’s a kind of capitalism that’s totally self-defeating because it’s so narrow. It’s a winner-take-all capitalism that’s not sustaining.”

Thank you for any comments!

darbikrash's picture
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Joined: Aug 25 2009
Posts: 573
That’s an interesting link,

That’s an interesting link, as it highlights some familiar themes of labor discretization and machine automation- the bookends of classical capital commoditization.


What’s new is the application of these age old principles to the field of education, as well as other sacrosanct occupations not thought conducive to lowest common denominator deconstruction.


And I agree with the premise, as a superficial story is woven about the democratization of education with egalitarian “access to all”, the end game is the transfer of ownership of the intellectual capital. This can be accomplished by dissolving the labor inputs to the lowest common denominator, and automating as much of the content delivery (teaching) as possible.


The important theme here is that this is not really a cost reduction motive, although this is of course part of it. The main thrust is ownership of the course content by Capital, which as far as I’m concerned cannot be allowed to happen. This is where the real profits reside, once the content is wholly owned, the obsolence of teaching begins, and you can bet the content will frozen and structured to benefit the highest bidder, corporations who are looking to receive freshly minted “graduates” with just the right mix of training to go to work the day after graduation and immediately add to the bottom line.


This time honored schema to commoditize and package labor content for elite ownership is evident in many fields, perhaps most easily recognized in manufacturing, it has for some time now been applied to white collar occupations.


But not teaching.


I would have to say the most insidious part of this whole process lies in the widespread dismantling of the social relations, e.g. it becomes fashionable to denigrate those whose occupations are being unraveled by these techniques. For an example, we need look no further the fate of labor unions, it is now a widely accepted pejorative to look down on unionized labor as unfairly entitled.


And there is no shortage of claims of irrelevance, how many (negative) comments do we hear criticizing others for being academic, their viewpoints therefore not “validated” in the “real” world of market based economics.


In effect, a race to the bottom.

maceves's picture
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Joined: Aug 23 2010
Posts: 281
education rant

I was an adjunct professor once---two years of unpredictable hours and income, very low on the academic social ladder, no benefits, reading stories of people on welfare making more than me.  That was more than twenty years ago, before I jumped into public education.  Part time professorship has always been a risky business.

He has other links to his articles about professors who don't keep office hours, who embarrass students in front of the class, of classes taught by graduate assistants,  of classes so large that the students never get to meet the professor.  On top of all of that, the student is going deeper and deeper into debt.

Then he criticizes the MOOCs.  All his points are valid.  The professor does sell his expertise to hundreds of thousands of students who probably would never go to his school and take his course.  Half of them are not even in his country.  I am taking a class now with about a hundred thousand students in it.

I would like to say this again:  These MOOCs are not for lazy students who want information spoon fed to them.  There is no professor to calm down emotional kids.  The work in some classes is on a very high level and peer review of compositions is often brutal.  There is no effort to use special effects or to make it entertaining.  There is no real credit at the end when you have finished.  There is no "cheat control", but if you aren't getting a credit anyway, it is very easy to get out of it.  The dropout rate is very high.

However, there are so many classes, you should be able to find one that interests you.  You can turn on captions or rerun the video if the professor makes no sense at all to you.  The readings are usually free, right there on line.  You can learn to be conversant on topics you never studied when you were in school, and you can be exposed to ideas you had never been exposed to.

These universities are expecting there to be a big shift in the future towards more mechanized education.  Perhaps there will be a student body that does two years of work on line and two years on campus.  Maybe students will do lectures on line and practicums with the teachers.  It would free the teacher to do more than lecture--to really teach students, to actively work with them, to have those office hours and paid time for research.

Right now these classes are offered for free.  I doubt that they will continue to do this indefinitely.  After they work out the "bugs" I am sure they will charge a fee that will still be accessible to people all over the world, maybe about the value of one of their college textbooks.

It's going to be a brave new world out there....

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