Airing the Room With Some Genial Grumping

I’m throwing open the windows to air the room with some good old fashioned grumping about the tomfoolery of modern times.  Some are finding the fug around here a little too close and warm.


This picture is a pretty funny take on the postmodern lecture hall.  It appears that the professor has asked a question, since the blonde bimbo in the grey sweater has raised her hand to answer (or perhaps she is just drying the polish on her nails).  Meanwhile the other seven students in this vast and otherwise empty lecture hall are swapping jokes and phone numbers, swigging from water bottles, and generally blowing off the bozo who is blathering at the podium.   The hundred or more class-cutters, and the seven grinning joke-swappers, are counting on Squarecap to make attendance-optional learning a reality. Squarecap is a new digital platform that facilitates “peer instruction,” and peer instruction brings the magic of the division of labor into the classroom.  You all remember Adam Smith’s story about the division of labor among the pin makers.  Well, what is good for making pins is just as good for making A’s.  Whereas every student in the bad old days had to learn alone, to trudge to lecture for himself, to listen for himself, to writing and study his own notes, even take his own test, Squarecap lets every student specialize in a digital factory that mass produces A’s.  We have seen how one student humors the bozo at the podium by answering his questions; another (the redhead in pink) takes the notes that she will later share on Squarecap; the six joke-swappers sustain the fiction of a lecture by showing up and looking like America, and a hundred and fifty class-cutters are thereby set free to contribute to society in other ways. Sleeping, playing frisbee, experiment with new drugs and sexual identities . . . 

The scramble for success has become so keen that students are now willing to pay money and jump through hoops for “microcredentials.”  I gather that these are, for the present, the most minute bona fides on offer, although the “nanocredential” cannot be far off.  Students have long been suckers for spurious certification programs, but the “microcredential” takes spurious certification to the next level.  In the old days a spurious certification program enticed students to take a suite of undersubscribed courses with the promise of “a valuable certificate.”  That the student’s transcript would certify their completion of these courses went unmentioned.  But those old certificates had to be photocopied, in some cases slipped into envelopes, and this made spurious certificate paragraphs tedious and costly to administer.  Digital “microcredentials” can be totally automated, and completely free, except, of course, to student.  Don’t ask me about digital badges.  All I know is that we must expect to see more and more digital badges, and that they will turn out to be a sinister thing that we will learn to loath and fear.

2 thoughts on “Airing the Room With Some Genial Grumping

  1. Ah, peer instruction. Twenty plus years ago… what I believe had started out as another well intentioned but futile (?) effort to teach physics students the physical concepts behind the equations they were so good at solving… had broken its banks, slewed half way round the world and morphed into *peer to peer learning* at my local uni… as a means of cutting costs by replacing tutors (by then PhD students) with cheaper second and third year undergraduate *mentors* of first year students. The only hold out was the physics department, who were more worried about the quality of education their charges were receiving, than it’s cost.


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