I usually like the things Bill Gates has to say on the topic of education, but I think he’s way off base here. I agree that text books seem to be awfully thick, and I’ve spent my fair share of time reading those written by scholars who seem to be simply grinding an ax. And educational technology and Web applications in academia know no greater champion than me. But to suggest that as thorough and meaningful an education as can be earned in academia can be acquired simply be reading and listening to lectures online seems ridiculous to me.
There is an old axiom that states “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” It’s a quick quip one can utter when confronted with arguments in debate that are not fully researched and go hardly beyond surface structure of the issue. However, never has this been more important a reality to bear in mind–especially as we launch head-long into what will certainly be one of the most contentious election seasons in history and while we’ll need to suffer through countless tirades from under-educated and under-informed candidates and supporters. Or let’s consider the one that states “you don’t know what you don’t know”? And I don’t know about you, Bill, but I sure as hell don’t want a doctor working on me who learned everything he knows from Web MD.
So Bill, please, let’s not generalize–not every text book is written by committee. And let’s not over-play our hand–unless you’re suggesting that people can find the equivalent to 120 lecture hours of content on a range of liberal studies topics that they themselves can organize into a cohesive program of study, then no, educating oneself on-line will never take the place of a college education (and that’s just a bachelors degree, don’t even get me started on the idea of advanced study at the master’s and doctoral levels!).
No, let’s not burn down the bastions of higher education, Bill, let’s work to ensure they are embracing technology and the World Wide Web to enrich educational experiences. Let’s encourage them to leverage in the educational experiences of those they teach, the unprecedented access to information the Web provides.