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unclassified - 13 08 2001 - 17:54 - katatonik

outsourcing knowledge, into coalmines perhaps?

When I learned, several months ago, that the MIT plans to make all its syllabi publicly available, I decided to leave the champagne in the fridge a little longer.
First, because my own experience with making materials available online to university students has made me quite sceptical in this regard. Having all materials available at one keystroke makes people easily fool themselves into believing that such availability alone grants them knowledge – access is equated with knowledge. To be sure, it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel every morning, but learning how to deal with archives and libraries, with books in many different languages from different eras, and – most importantly – with grumpy and stubborn librarians is absolutely essential for studying, as is the realization that the primary location of knowledge is still the human brain, assisted, but not replaced, by harddisks, cd-roms, and zip drives.
Then I ran into this guy who collaborated in developing some highly innovative website for history students. He was complaining about Austria’s school-system, about how high-school students were not allowed to use dictionaries in their final exams. The school-system needs to wake up into a reality where knowledge is interactive and socially connected, he said. Don’t you think, I asked him, that if you instill in people a sense that to solve problems they are to rely on others, things like self-reliance and self-responsibility, as well as a critical attitude towards sources of information, will be more likely to evapourate? Does this whole talk about interactivity in a so-called “knowledge society” not undermine key political concepts that same knowledge society is supposed to be based on?
Another reason why I didn’t get that enthusiastic about the MIT announcement was that under present political conditions, an educational policy as innocent and naive as that may quickly turn into yet another instance of dubious political practice veiled behind the noble motives of development and progress. The description of the “OpenCourseWare” project says that “these materials might be of particular value in developing countries that are trying to expand their higher education systems rapidly”. Is it paranoid to imagine how some small African university will receive development grants from the US on the condition that they implement MIT syllabi? Popularization efforts – I’m deliberately NOT using the word “democratization” here – on the part of the Big Powerful Players almost inevitably, and mostly unintentionally, result in marginalizing alternative approaches and reducing diversity in a field.
What prompted this little rant, actually, was sparknotes, a website offering study guides on all sorts of subjects written by Harvard students. This project may well have its merits – extending American students’ horizon beyond the confines of the US and Europe is certainly not one of them -, but what actually annoys me, in addition to all that advertizing, is the preposterous tone of their self-description (with no hint of irony):

“Today, the crusade toward academic world domination continues. We hope you’ll agree that SparkNotes has become the most impressive and useful academic resource available online.”

It’s moments like this when I believe blowing up all prestigious universities and sending their students into coalmines wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.

[this log was manually added by the sock, as our esteemed visitor's browser was having problems dealing with this form. end of administrative note.)
Da ich ja auch noch studiere, kann ich Dir nur zustimmen: Wissenszugang: ja, aber ein bißchen selber denken sollte noch drin sein. Ich hab hier auch so ein Ami-Geschichtswerk rumstehen, da staune ich immer wieder, wie einfach da alles ist: Europa rutscht mehr oder minder zufällig durch mal eben 600 Jahre, es gibt kaum Zwischentöne, kaum Zweifel, das ist so und
das ist so, ein Tatsachenkatalog, und Fragen werden nicht gestellt. Man tut so, als gäbe es keine. Die Geschichte als zu paukender Lernstoff,
jenseits solcher Unwägbarkeiten wie zB. unterschiedliche Forschungstraditionen, unterschiedliche kulturelle Sichtweisen. In
dieser Kategorie sehe ich auch diese Spark-Notes: ja, man soll den Studenten alles zugänglich machen, und zwar so einfach wie möglich,
nein, man soll ihnen nicht jeden Mist vorkauen, die sollen sich mal selbst hinsetzen und nicht alles abschreiben, das ist ja schließlich
Sinn der Sache.
Was die Zielgruppe für sowas angeht: Darüber bin zumindest ich hinaus. Ich glaube nicht alles, was man mir vorsetzt, auch wenn Harvard draufsteht - genausowenig wie ich alles glaube, was in BILD oder der Kronen-Zeitung steht. Und Leute zum alles-glauben zu erziehen, dazu, kleine Fertigpäckchen zu schlucken: entschuldigung, das ist einer der Hauptfehler unserers Erziehungssystems und gehört ausgemerzt. Ich habe
jetzt immer noch kleine Aha-Erlebnisse, wenn ich wieder mal feststellen muß, daß man mir in der Schule etwas falsch beigebracht hat, aber mich
gezwungen hat, es gefälligst zu schlucken - ist ja Lehrstoff.

Andrea Diener (Aug 17, 12:14 am) #

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