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Via Brad DeLong, an article by Kevin Carey in the Chronicle of Higher Education starts with the obvious — the Internet is killing newspapers as we knew them — and asks whether the same will happen to universities.
Kevin Carey, in the original article cited above, writes:
Newspapers are dying. Are universities next? The parallels between them are closer than they appear. Both industries are in the business of creating and communicating information. Paradoxically, both are threatened by the way technology has made that easier than ever before.
Cosmic Variance points out the variety of functions available through more traditional university environments, from belonging to a community, to participating in extracurricular activities and becoming independent. He suggests strongly that it would be “too bad” if current instruction were to be replaced by an online model, much as the Internet has supplanted print newspapers.
Reader comments have interesting perspectives on the matter, too. Personally, I am inclined to agree that an online, Web-based education would have provided perhaps twenty percent of what I learned during my undergraduate education, and perhaps fifty percent or more of my law school education. Law school has simple been so much more fact-specific and detailed in its teaching in a way that my undergraduate learning was not. On the other hand, nothing could replace my judicial externship experience or certain interactions with some faculty in law school. But this in-person, experiential aspect was far more critical for me as an undergraduate, where learning facts was far less important than learning to think critical, engage with the world on my own, and seek out my own path distinct from what I thought I should be doing with my life. All achievable independent of a physical university, I would think, but perhaps more difficult and less likely to occur as effectively.
Regardless, I do not think the physical university is going anywhere, but I do think online options are, will be, and ought to be critical supplements, particularly in certain areas of learning.