Education is about interaction, not content

The scarcity of content through much of human history (remember when they used to chain books to shelves in libraries?) has allowed us to collectively confuse education with the delivery of content. It was about the lecture, in which rare and wondrous knowledge was imparted to eager young minds, not about the experience of discussing, wrestling with ideas, and building artifacts (be they papers or dance or sculpture or lab apparatus) that changed both us and our world.

The overwhelming flood of content that we are now drowning in clearly puts paid to those assumptions. The content is out there, free, waiting for us to find it and stuff it in our heads, with more on the way. “Free on-line class shakes up photo education” from Wired is a nice example of how the content space is changing dramatically, as well as implying that traditional face-to-face education is perhaps a doomed beast:

“I think we’re heading towards a place where we’ll no longer be able to charge for content,” says Worth. “And that scares the shit out of academic institutions.”

This does indeed scare academics and administrators, and excites lots of entrepreneurs who (often rightly) feel that they compete with traditional institutions in the content space. Those, both in and out of the academy, who worry are ultimately missing the point. Content was never what we should have been charging for, and if that’s all we were doing we were frankly doing it wrong. Our real value is in the life changing experiences. When I talk to our alumni, they rarely reminisce about specific courses, and even less often about particular content. What they remember are the things they built and the experiences they shared. They remember the love Margaret Edson talks about so eloquently in this 2008 graduation speech at Smith College:

2008 Smith College Commencement Margaret Edson from Smith College on Vimeo.

So those of us in the Academy need to get over our fascination with content and focus on the business of trying to make a difference in the lives of our students. And students and parents need to become smarter shoppers and look for schools that will give them the experiences that will make a difference in their lives. Any school can give you names and dates, facts and figures, drills and exercises. And so can the Internet. A good school challenges you to discuss, write, build, experience, and understand, which is something that people are a hell of a lot better at than books or web pages.

P.S. The Academy isn’t the only place where we’re struggling to figure out The Point. This excellent post by Vaguery on what coworking is and isn’t is extremely relevant and comes to many of the same conclusions: Experience and community matter. Hop on and stoke the engines, peeps; we’ve got places to go and things to do.

Related posts

I’ve become a book cover!

Cover of "Tongue party" by Sarah Rose Etter
Cover of Tongue party by Sarah Rose Etter

Actually, I helped a piece of Jess Larson’s wonderful art become the central component of a book cover, but let us not quibble.

As patient, long-time readers might know/remember, Jess Larson makes very cool art, including a fantastic series of girdles from several years back. There was a showing of her girdles at the PRCA back in 2006, and I had the chance to carefully photograph the show, posting many of the results on Flickr.

Zip ahead several years, and one of these photos caught the eye of the folks at Caketrain as they were looking for ideas for the cover of a new book they were publishing: Tongue party by Sarah Rose Etter. Some e-mails were traded, etc., etc., and Jess and I both happily agreed to have our work (her girdle, my photo of it) used for their cover.

My original photo of Jess Larson's girdle as posted on Flickr
"A tongue tied in knots" (My original photo of Jess's girdle as posted on Flickr)

One of the unexpected little treasures that was waiting for us when we got home from Arkansas this week was my copy of the book, and the cover (pictured above) is really wonderful. I love the texture they added as the background and the way they’ve incorporated the text. I haven’t actually read the thing yet, but the pre-press blurbs certainly sound wonderful and I look forward to adding it to my summer reading list!

Thanks to Jess for making such cool art, giving me such nifty things to take pictures of, and being generous about the use of her art in this new context. Thanks also to the kind folks at Caketrain for seeing the work and getting in touch, and for making such a cool cover out of it all. This is another neat example of the value of sharing work on-line with tools such as Flickr; without that none of this would have been possible. I’m not getting paid anything beyond my free copy of the book, but now a whole new set of people will see Jess’s art and my photography, and that’s quite fine in my humble opinion.

Related posts