[ExI] the future of stanford u
anders at aleph.se
Mon Feb 25 14:12:41 UTC 2013
On 25/02/2013 03:44, spike wrote:
> Me too! I looove Stanford, that is the place to out-hang. Lots of
> interesting stuff going on there always. I had forgotten how cool,
> interesting and mathematical is Hayden. In some ways he is the more
> approachable Bach, warm, nice, still precise and profound, but
> huggable is Hayden.
> After the concert, while I was waiting around for the 1300 lecture, I walked about and pondered the future of high-end
> universities like Stanford and that other place across the way whose name often escapes me, Berk something I think.
> The online learning will have an enormous impact methinks. I would like to steer the thread from insanity to Stanford.
Yes, the future of universities is interesting. Why do we have them?
There are several functions they do:
1. Teach stuff to people
2. Validate what they know, either absolutely or in relation to other
3. Get people to interact and network
4. Help people grow as persons into autonomous, smart citizen-intellectuals
5. Do research
Online courses can do 1 and 2, up to a point. One reason a lot of people
drop out is that they do require dedication and focus, and not everybody
got it. At a physical university you have A) a social support system of
friends, B) university staff trying to get students motivated or help
them if they show signs of slipping, and C) a high threshold of entry
that through cognitive dissonance and the sunk cost fallacy keeps people
in - you don't want to have wasted all that college money, right? This
is why I think online courses are a huge win for smart, young and
ambitious people in simple circumstances, but they are not the solution
for the average could-be student in those circumstances. Universities
grab you better.
The third function is why campuses are important. People run into each
other. There is a high concentration of smart, creative, and promising
people: a lot of the old school ties will be really valuable later in
life. People come up with business ideas or just learn how to deal with
social life and its politics by participating in local organisations and
networks. Oxford Union is not just a debating club: it is the debating
club where a certain number of your fellows are going to become heads of
state one day, and everybody knows it - so the internal politics will be
a real test. The Oxford college structure makes students and faculty of
different specialities at least have lunch and dinner together, and
encourages socializing across discipline boundaries. These are things
online courses will not have much advantage over, which is at least why
Oxford and Cambridge are currently just ignoring them.
The fourth function is mysterious, and maybe more of wishful thinking
than anything real.
The fifth function is somewhat decoupled from the others. Brilliant
researchers are not on average better lecturers, but having access to
people actually finding new knowledge means that universities will
typically be more up to date than other institutions. Conversely, you
want to have ready access to smart students to get involved in your
research - in a sense the education part is just a constantly ongoing
job fair for the researchers to exploit.
One reason to have universities is clustering. Most universities are
clusters of institutions and companies that benefit from access to each
other and people - Stanford and Silicon Valley is perhaps the most
famous example. I think we will start to see online clustering where
online services also network with other services for mutual benefit, but
I don't know if they are going to be effective enough at retaining
attention and people to become "real" clusters.
I also wonder about virtual research clusters. The same problem about
keeping things together recurs, but one can use other means to hold them
together (such as contracts). A cluster might outsource lab work or
observational work, doing the cutting edge theory and analysis in-cluster.
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Faculty of Philosophy
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