Posted by: Sam Carson | 20 November, 2007

Lecture Podcasts – Breaking down Classes

A few weeks ago Tony posted about the recent trend of uploading University lectures onto the internet.  His point was that professors are usually more interested in the research side of things — the lectures are an annoyance for many profs.  If that is the case, the more profs post these lectures, the more the importance of the live presentation is diminished.  In the end, why have a lecture at all?  Why not take tuition fees in return for a nice little chunk of software that includes a smattering of eLectures and an eLibrary, and be done with it?

I agree.  Why not?

A degree is an essential requirement for upward mobility.  Trust me, I know.  Gone are the zero to hero days on your own talent, it just doesn’t happen, other than a few entrepreneurial exceptions.  To be a part of the system you need a degree.

Not that the education is what is looked for, that is the lamentable fact.  A friend of mine works in insurance on the back of a geology degree; my wife is an accountant after four years of history and classics.  In fact, it often seems like someone with a degree that supports their profession is the exception, rather than the rule.

So, the degree is required.  But why?  If not for the education, then why do hiring policies require one?

It separates the “wheat from the chaff”.  It costs money to obtain a degree, a serious amount of money.  Though financial support structures are available, it requires a commitment of a large amount of capital, and a vast amount of time.  So, be wary of someone who does not have a degree: as they have been unable to commit to the capital or the time.

This reeks of class division. The middle class, as a matter of course, disappear around Europe or Asia for a gap year, then spend three years drunk and irresponsible at University before they turn up as city professionals.  It is a well read script.  The working/immigrating classes go to trade colleges, or apprenticeships before going to work.  University, and therefore the big city money not available without exceptional effort.  Those who do push into University do so against the cultures of their high schools (whose catchment policies are geographical, and therefore reinforce the class divisions of neighbourhoods), and overcome the wealth and time restrictions.

If universities have a second tier of education: cheaper, portable and not time structured, then it allows more opportunities for this class division to be overcome.  More opportunities for everyone: parents of newborns can use the time to study, or professionals looking to expand their expertise or people who just want to learn more.  The Berkeley Podcasts are a terrific example: I listen to them for fun and interest – the lectures on Open Source, the History of Information or following the path of society through literature.  These courses are fascinating to me but without the podcasts I would never have the opportunity to listen to them – I don’t have the time to it in a class and listen, I don’t have the money to buy such wonderful education, and I don’t have the access as I live in London.

But I do listen to them.  And if I press through all lectures, and out of interest do all the required reading, why shouldn’t I be allowed to take the exam and get that precious college credit?  If I take the time to learn the concept, isn’t that what the degree is about?  Or is it really about the piece of paper?  Or the class division?

In our modern society, the imperatives of education on the person are too demanding to waste learning without certification over lamenting aged forms of information distribution (lectures) and geography.  In another way, if the certification is the most important point, then allow that certification to expand to everyone.  Not just those with the time and money.

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