This comic is several weeks old, but I keep pulling it back up again and again. In just three small panels and in about 30 words, the strip speaks a pretty clear message of how the idea of education is shifting.
The more I thought about the comic, though, the more I realized we can actually read it two different ways:
- The interviewee is trying desperately to use the appropriate (yet empty) buzzwords that give him the credibility he needs. But to the Boss, it’s being translated into a completely different message: I’m a high school drop-out who failed three times at starting my own business. I’m not competent enough to make it through the formal education process, so I just try patch together the skills I need here and there. Instead of going to school, I went online and signed up for a few free courses, and printed off the completion certificates myself.
- Or, we can take what the interviewee is saying at face value: I was bored with high school and found it irrelevant because I spent all my time outside of class reading and learning about the things that actually interested me. I skipped my last year of high school and started not one but three successful start-up companies with a few of my buddies. Although much of my knowledge is self-learned, the online course I’ve completed are designed and taught by ivy-league instructors from institutions like Stanford, Yale, and Duke. The technology field is constantly changing, so I continue to work and learn, diving into projects and learning the skills I need to be successful with those projects.
Regardless of our interpretation, however, Pointy-Haired Boss (that’s right–he doesn’t actually have a name in the Dilbert comics) is less than impressed, and he ultimately determines that this guy is uneducated.
Which leads us to the question: What is education? And how does that idea of “education” determine a person’s ultimate success?
Last week, I posted an infographic about a flipped classroom model that’s being used in high schools. By “flipped classroom,” I’m referring to a model of learning that puts the instruction part of a course (such as lectures) online, freeing up class-time for hands-on work. Essentially, what was once done in the classroom is done at home, and what was done at home is brought back into the classroom. This puts the instructor in the role of facilitator, rather than the sole keeper of knowledge. Students can work to understand the material on their own time and at their own speed, leaving class time open for discussion, questions, group work, or individual work.
I think I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I took one online course while I was an undergrad, and I hated it. It was a business writing class, and the instructor was non-responsive to emails, gave very little directed feedback, and left the class to basically figure things out for ourselves. I hated the feeling of being so disconnected from my professor–so much so that I sought out another instructor in the English department who also taught business writing. He was gracious enough to meet with me to discuss my work, and I’m not sure I would have faired very well in the course without his constructive feedback.
This one experience tainted my views of online courses, and I’ve avoided taking them ever since then. It’s also another reason I’ve been cautious about the idea of teaching an online course. I wouldn’t want a student to go through the same experience that I did. I, like many others, fear that teaching online becomes too impersonal, too distant, too disconnected.