Contemporary challenges to education essay

Today a student who makes the slightest correction to a Wikipedia article is contributing more to the state of public knowledge, in a matter of minutes, than I was able to do over the course of my entire grade school education, such as it was. In this manner, it is reckoned that content from almost 80 percent of courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are available on this free-to-use basis.

Similar commitments can be found in institutions ranging from world-class universities such as Yale and Oxford to local community colleges. In all these cases, course materials such as seminar notes, podcasts, and videos of lectures are shared online with a worldwide population of learners, most of whom could otherwise not attend.

Crucially as with Wikipedia , the emphasis of Open Educational Resources is not merely permitting individuals to use provided materials, but encouraging the alteration and amendment of these resources as required. Other forms of online content sharing involve the open distribution of educational content that has been created by individuals as well as institutions.

For example, the YouTube EDU service offers access to millions of educational videos produced by individual educators and learners. The aim of Khan Academy is to support individuals to learn at their own pace and to revisit learning content on a repeated basis. Face-to-face classroom time can be then be devoted to the practical application of the knowledge through problem solving, discovery work, project-based learning, and experiments Khan Now, most notably through successful large-scale ventures such as Coursera and Ed-X, MOOCs involve the online delivery of courses on a free-at-the-point-of-contact basis to mass audiences.

This focus on individually directed discovery learning has proved especially appropriate to college-level education. Now it is possible for individuals of all ages to participate in mass online courses run by professors from the likes of Stanford, MIT, and Harvard universities in subjects ranging from a Yale elective in Roman architecture to a Harvard course in the fundamentals of neuroscience. This approach is seen to be especially applicable to locations such as slum communities in India and Cambodia where Internet access is otherwise lacking.

These programs, projects, and initiatives are indicative of the variety of ways in which education and the Internet have coalesced over the past 20 years. As the cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito has described, there are various different genres of everyday Internet-based practice that can be said to involve elements of learning see Ito et al. This messing around can then sometimes lead to the more intense commitment of what Ito has described as geeking out. These are bouts of concentrated and intense participation within defined communities of like-minded and similarly interested individuals driven by common and often specialized interests.

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Rather, established cultures and traditions of education also have a profound reciprocal influence on technologies. While understandable, these continuities certainly belie claims of radical transformation and disruption of the educational status quo. For instance, rather than extending educational opportunities to those who previously were excluded, the recent rise of the MOOC in countries such as the U. This leaves any attempts to predict the likely influence of the Internet on future forms of education on uncertain ground.

Yet it is equally unwise to presume that any of the examples given so far in the chapter necessarily herald a fundamental shift in education. In this respect, perhaps the most significant issues that need to be considered about the Internet and education are sociological, rather than technical, in nature.


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In this sense, the Internet prompts a range of ideological questions rather than purely technical answers about the nature of education in the near future. Thus, as this chapter draws to a close we should move away from the optimistic speculation that pervades most educational discussions of the Internet.

Instead, there are a number of important but less often acknowledged social, cultural, and political implications that also merit attention:. First, then, is the way in which Internet-based education promotes an implicit individualization of practice and action. The Internet is celebrated by many educationalists as increasing the responsibility of individuals in terms of making choices with regards to education, as well as dealing with the consequences of their choice.

Introduction

Of course, this is usually assumed to work in favor of the individual and to the detriment of formal institutions. Yet the idea of the self-responsibilized, self-determining learner is based upon an unrealistic assumption that all individuals have a capacity to act in an agentic, empowered fashion throughout the course of their day-to-day lives. Of course, only a privileged minority of people are able to act in a largely empowered fashion. As such this individualization of action leads to education becoming an area of increased risk as well as opportunity. These issues raise a number of important questions.

What is the nature of the collective forms of Internet-based education? Is the Internet undermining or even eroding notions of education as a public good? Another significant issue related to the increased educational significance of the Internet is the ways in which online data and information are now defining, as well as describing, social life.

The Internet has certainly extended the significance of databases, data mining, analytics, and algorithms, with organizations and institutions functioning increasingly through the ongoing collection, aggregation, and re analysis of data.

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The collection and analysis of online data is now a key aspect of how actions are structured and decisions are made in many areas of education. These data are used for a variety of purposes—including internal course administration, target setting, performance management, and student tracking. There are, of course, many potential advantages to the heightened significance of online data. Yet, there is a clear need for caution amidst these potential advantages—not least how the increased prevalence of online data in education is implicated in the shaping of what people can and cannot do.

For example, how are individuals and their learning being represented by data collected online? How does the Internet support the connection, aggregation, and use of these data in ways not before possible? Thirdly, is the need to recognize the role of commercial and private actors in the growth of Internet-based education.


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  • Introduction!
  • Indeed, the role of the private sector is integral to many of the forms of Internet-based education described in this chapter. A range of multinational commercial interests such as Pearson, Cengage, and McGraw-Hill are now involved heavily in the business of e-learning and online provision of teaching and training—competing with countless smaller commercial concerns and a range of nonprofit organizations.

    Of course, the increased involvement of commercial interests in online education could be seen to have many potential benefits. The private sector is able to focus considerable technological resources and expertise on educational issues. Face it. For example, how committed are IT producers and vendors to the public good of educational technology above and beyond matters of profit and market share?

    What are the moral and ethical implications of reshaping education along the lines of market forces and commercial values? Why should education correspond automatically with the needs of the digital economy? Finally—and perhaps less tangibly—there is also a sense that the Internet might be altering the psychological, emotional, and spiritual bases of education.

    This raises questions of what is perhaps lost when one is able to engage with education at all times of the day and in all contexts? Is there something to be said for being able to disconnect from the pressures of education? Is learning best suited to some contexts and circumstances than others?

    Many of the forms of online education described in this chapter could also be said to frame learning often inadvertently as a competitive endeavor. Thus while a sense of achievement at the expense of others may not be immediately apparent, the Internet could be seen as a means of humanizing, disguising, and intensifying the competitive connotations of learning. All these points also relate to the correspondences between the Internet and the altered emotional aspects of educational engagement. In particular, many of the forms of Internet-based education described earlier in this chapter such as the virtual school or the MOOC could be said to involve learning being experienced on less immediate, less intimate, and perhaps more instrumental grounds.

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    Certainly, the remote, virtual sense of learning online is qualitatively different to the embodied sense of face-to-face learning—both in advantageous and disadvantageous ways. The predominantly optimistic rhetoric of transformation and change that currently surrounds the Internet and education distracts from a number of significant conflicts and tensions that need to be better acknowledged and addressed. There are, after all, many people who will be advantaged by more individualized, elitist, competitive, market-driven, omnipresent, and de-emotionalized forms of educational engagement.

    The Internet clearly works for the millions of people who are learning online at this very moment. Why, so the thinking goes, should highly motivated and hard-working individuals bury themselves in debt when they could just as easily learn on their own without take time away from making loads of money? On the one hand, Thiel is an inspiring — albeit troubling, at least for academics — alternative. Despite the overall data suggesting that those with a B. Both parents and students continue to gobble up one of the worst ideologies since the geocentric theory or trickle-down economics — namely that high school graduates must go to college in order to get a good read: high-paying job.

    Every semester I remind the freshman undergraduates at the private college where I teach that a B. Experiences abound refuting this supposed iron law of nature. At the same time, dropping out of school to follow the example of others is no guarantee of success either. We can appreciate Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Thiel as representative samples for why college education is unnecessary, but we also need to consider that following their lead may not pay off any more than an undergraduate degree would. Another false ideology that needs to be exposed is the notion that a major must have its mirrored companion in the job market.

    And what "pays," we readily assume, is related directly to making money.