Arnold Kling  

Educational Disintermediation

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Alex Tabarrok writes,


I have argued that universities will move to a superstar market for teachers in which the very best teachers use on-line instruction and TAs to teach thousands of students at many different universities.

What he is suggesting is a form of disintermediation, in which the professor's brand is stronger than the university's brand. Read the whole post.

One way to quickly improve any university would be to eliminate the bottom 25 percent of teachers and replace them with online instruction from outside the university. Maybe online instructors cannot compete with high-quality in-person professors, but they can certainly replace the worst.


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Randy writes:

I like the concept. Even wrote a paper on it once. What's missing is a widely accepted certification process, that is, one that is outside of the university diploma system. So I would get a certificate instead of a degree, and include all the best instructors on my resume, but, most important, the employers would have to believe in it. As an intemediate step it might be possible to bring the universities on board with "guest instructor programs" or something of that sort, but I doubt they would see it as being in their best interests.

Tom West writes:

Sadly, I disagree that non-personal education works for the majority of students. U of Toronto embarked on a very expensive experiment decades ago with recorded lectures via TV.

They got the best lecturers, a good studio, and spent the money to produce really good lectures.

It was, of course, a complete flop.

My theory is that (subconsciously) students aren't willing to put in the effort to learn if they don't see someone putting in the effort to teach.

As is, any non-direct interaction model will only likely work for the 10% of the student population that are self-disciplined and self-motivated. Then again, most of that 10% would do fine with a course outline, a reading list, a library, and office hours.

Ironman writes:

Arnold wrote:

Maybe online instructors cannot compete with high-quality in-person professors, but they can certainly replace the worst.

Can we do that in high schools too? Please?

RL writes:

I understand this works in Japan at the level of high school after-school tutoring, and the top tutors make 6 figure incomes or more.

This also reminds me of what happened in comic book publishing back in the 1980s when people discovered that brand names like Marvel and DC were less important than writer/artist names like Alan Moore and Frank Miller.

Ryan Vann writes:

I learned a lot about history and science from the History Channel and Bill Nye over the years. Was it comprable to education received in a brick and mortar school. Perhaps not, but I wasn't viewing those shows primarily for their educational value, but rather my own amusement.

Alan writes:

I second Ironman's suggestion: online resources probably offer even more potential improvement in high schools than in universities. During the past year I have done some high-school substitute teaching, and what I have been most struck by is the lack of time teachers have for giving individual attention to students. An average teacher at my school has about 120 students, so each minute per student spent going over homework or giving personal advice takes a total of two hours: 20 hours total if it takes 10 minutes per student to grade a homework assignment carefully. Time limitations are a powerful disincentive. I would like to see most lecturing and all of the routine part of homework done online, allowing teachers to devote all their teaching time to the personal interactions that cannot be done online.

Les writes:

I am an online department chair supervising 30 online professors teaching economics, finance and accounting in a 3,000 student MBA program in a leading online university with 100,000 online students.

I chuckled at the misconceptions about online education. Our classes are limited to 25 students. We have written assignments and class discussions just like face-to-face universities.

The fact is that we have conference software where every class and its professor can talk to each other and see each other (because the webcams automatically show whoever is speaking) in real time. We also record each meeting so that a student can watch any missed class.

As chair, I daily visit each online classroom to ensure that feedback and grades for weekly assignments are prompt, helpful and fair. Also I verify that all written questions submitted by students are fully answered within 12 hours.

In short, we save students the hassle of driving in traffic, hunting for parking and having to attend class at fixed times. Our students can study whenever and wherever they can get online.

I believe that our education is superior to face-to-face education. Of course I realize that there are second-rate online universities - just as there are inferior face-to-face universities.

Ryan Vann writes:

Les,

Great points made. The conferencing capabilities we have access to these days, not to mention forum access, really close the gaps in the advantages in-person education once had over electric forum education.

BL writes:

Universities will survive because they're not really about skill acquisition. For undergrads, a university is really just a fun place to spend four years.

guthrie writes:

Les, if it's alright with the webmaster, would you care to plug your school?

[It's fine with me; but also remember that some commenters prefer a little anonymity.--Econlib Ed.]

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