Monday, February 25, 2008

Getting what you pay for

I've been interested in the open courseware movement for a few years now. What are the implications of giving away organized knowledge, the very thing that most folks probably consider the product that universities try to sell?

Today in class I tried out a hypothesis, based on the idea that universities are not in fact selling knowledge but expertise. See what you think about this:

If what you are paying for is the knowledge your professors can give you, then every second that a student is talking instead of the professor, you are wasting your money. But the fact that universities are giving away the knowledge their professors have and generate is an indication that you're not paying for that.

The open courseware movement operates under the assumption that the valuable aspects of the university education are access to the professors, and the credentialing authority of the institution. If that is the case, then the value of the professor is her availability as a resource and the time she spends with students in mentoring. This is an apprenticeship model; students attach themselves to masters who are experts in their fields, with the goal of attaining the status of competent practitioner in that field.

If so, what you are paying for is the time the professor spends supervising and guiding your practice. And if that is the case, then every second that the professor is the one doing, while the student is passively receiving -- not doing -- is a waste of your money.


fjohn said...

Yes, yes, yes.

These sort of ideas are why I get in trouble with other professors.

the secret knitter said...

It's easy for me to agree with this since I'm in a field that requires direct work with students rather than lecturing. Perhaps that's why it feels like adult continuing studies students who audit the courses (or try to get them for free) are stealing from the paying undergrads. More often than not, what they're searching for is that expertise, not the knowledge, and suck up one's time in the process.