Monday, December 23, 2013

Why Professors Should Be Like Preachers

The Atlantic Monthly

Futurism is a hazardous sport, but this Tyler Cowen fellow seems like he might actually be good at it. In this brief passage, he manages to point out the weakness of MOOCs and to reiterate the value of "high-touch" services.
At a good teaching school, a professor is expected to run the class and, sometimes, have a small group of students over to his house for dinner. As the former function becomes less important, due to competition from online content, the latter function will predominate. The computer program cannot host a chatty, informal dinner in the same manner. We could think of the forthcoming educational model as professor as impresario. In some important ways, we would be returning to the original model of face-to-face education as practiced in ancient Greek symposia and meetings by the agora.
It will become increasingly apparent how much of current education is driven by human weakness, namely the inability of most students to simply sit down and try to learn something on their own. It’s a common claim that you can’t replace professors with Nobel-quality YouTube lectures, because the professor, and perhaps also the classroom setting, is required to motivate most of the students. Fair enough, but let’s take this seriously. The professor is then a motivator first and foremost. Let’s hire good motivators. Let’s teach our professors how to motivate. Let’s judge them on that basis. Let’s treat professors more like athletics coaches, personal therapists, and preachers, because that is what they will evolve to be.

—From Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation, by Tyler Cowen (published in September by Dutton)

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