The Myth of DIY U

It's hard to learn this way; in fact, it's harder than going to college. The educational system as it is currently structured is intended to offer a set of short cuts - access to qualified practitioners, creation of custom peer networks, guided and scaffolded practice - for a certain price. The system isn't (as suggested in Kamenetz's booklet) about imposing sets of restrictions and making things more expensive. It's about offering the greatest reach in the shortest time. It allows those willing and able to invest themselves full-time to master the basics of a discipline relatively quickly, so they can obtain employment and begin the real learning they will need to undertake in order to become expert.

Stephen Downes has an excellent point by point dissection of the inaccuracies and fallacies of Anya Kamenetz's new e-book The Edupunk's Guide in response to a discussion on the IDC listserv. I urge you to go read that critique right now because it's incredibly thoughtful and comprehensive. I love how Downes correctly reflects the college experience as one of the ultimate short cut for those that are able (and can afford) to do it. The criticism of the higher education institution by those who have learned how to do a few cursory Google searches and watch some YouTube videos that it's possible to roll your own educational experience without spending thousands of dollars a semester paints a picture that is the exact opposite of reality. No one can argue the lack of value in Ted Talks, the explosion of YouTube, and social networks as PLNs. But let's not pretend that trying to create your own academic experience by using DIY is a shortcut to higher education. It's fast food, certainly cheap, but let's not pretend that you'll turn a McDouble into a 7 course meal in 5 minutes and that you'll be satisfied by that experience. I have no problem with the argument that higher education is expensive, too expensive for many, and that has to change. I'll walk in Washington alongside you in support for subsidizing the cost of the higher-ed experience so many more can do it. But what I do have a problem with is this pretentious argument that there's no longer any value to going to college and that somehow the explosion of the internet means every 17-year-old should be considering a free ride at Khan Academy instead of Duke University. Illustrating those of us in the institutions as captains of a sinking ship encouraging everyone to go back to their cabins is a straw man argument used by those who want to pretend the world wide web is "good enough". For very few in certain disciplines of a certain mindset DIY might be enough, but for the vast majority of students and learners, the college experience offers so much more, at a fast pace, packaged in an environment surrounding by other hands-on learners. I won't pretend the web can't replace that at some point in the future, but we're not there now. Let's focus on providing excellent learning environments that are accessible to more people instead of trying to build and sell more fast food joints.