The rise of Massive Open Online Courses is presenting higher education with a powerful challenge. Access to great teachers will help millions. But will MOOCs cause a massive college shakeout as well?
Michael Reilly/Daily News-Record/AP
A tree farm produces a monoculture you can count on. Its timber efficiently becomes the lumber that makes houses and furniture. A woodlot is a little more sketchy. It might begin as a forgotten weed patch, grow into a scrubby forest, and eventually host a mini-United Nations of species. Left alone, a woodlot can become an interestingly varied patch of earth, maybe even a natural treasure.
Conventionality or originality? Most of us choose both. We don’t want surprises when it comes to floor joists. We prefer our airline pilots not to let the muse guide them to Pittsburgh. But leave room for serendipity. Order keeps our world humming. The unthought-of tips the world’s equilibrium. It can be as disruptive as quantum physics, as fresh as Beethoven or The Beatles.
Education is forever balancing and rebalancing uniformity and creativity. Basic competence has to be mastered. But innovative thinking must be encouraged. Read the canon of great literature, but don’t be afraid to demolish conventional wisdom. Students and their parents seek out the best school and best teachers, hoping for the best education. But students can flourish at middling colleges and with average teachers if their reading is inspiring, their lab work intriguing, their thinking encouraged.