When I’ve written about best-of-breed education in the past (here, here, and here), I’ve mainly stressed the benefits to students. Students can acquire competencies in many different ways, have them tested and verified, and get on with life. They will have more choices, more flexibility, and a better education at lower cost.
That’s all well and good … but what about teachers? Would best-of-breed (BOB) education be better for us?
More specifically, could I start my own university?
I enjoy teaching and I especially enjoy teaching at the University of Denver (DU). But teaching at any university imposes some constraints. For instance, DU is on a quarter system so I can only start new classes four times a year. If I had my own university, I might start a new class every Monday on the Internet. Students would have a lot more choices of when and how to get an education.
I could probably lower the cost of education as well. While DU is competitive on cost, it’s not cheap. I could offer my courses for $100 per student – very competitive – and make it up on volume. I would probably make more money than I’m making now and, at the same time, students could reduce their costs dramatically. They’d also get some darn good classes (if I do say so myself). Quality and flexibility go up while costs go down.
Setting up my own university is not as far-fetched as it might sound. It all has to do with how Learning Management Systems (LMS) have evolved. LMSs typically run on the Internet and help teachers manage all aspects of the education process – from lectures to grading to student communication. They can even help you identify plagiarism.
Traditionally, choosing an LMS was an institution-wide decision. A school (or a department within a school) would choose an LMS and all the teachers and students in the school would use it. For instance, I teach in University College (UCOL), the professional and continuing education unit within the University of Denver. Some years ago, UCOL standardized on an LMS called Pearson eCollege. Every course we teach now uses eCollege. (By the way, it’s quite good and I recommend it).
As LMSs have evolved over the past decade, they’ve become very rich platforms for serving up myriad educational experiences. The decision-making has also changed. It used to be an institutional decision. Now it’s a personal decision. Many LMS platforms are now free (or close to it) and they’re fairly easy to maintain. So I could acquire an LMS, set it up on this website, and start teaching. I could probably have it up and running in less than a month.
While students could learn a lot at the University of Travis (UT), they might find it difficult to prove that they had learned a lot. I would, of course, provide verifiable test scores and certificates. But that’s probably not enough. We would still need some type of universal testing system and “student passport” to verify what the students have learned and retained. As I’ve argued in the past, it’s not conceptually different from evaluating fine wines.
Andy Warhol once said that, in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. I have a slightly different take. In the future, everyone will be a teacher for 15 minutes. Barriers to entry are collapsing. While some people will teach full time, most people will teach from time to time. Opportunities to learn will expand dramatically and costs will drop.
Just one remaining question: what mascot should we choose for the University of Travis?