Thursday, October 11, 2012

Potpourri #2

Another mixed potpourri of schtuff today:

Many of you may have already seen this, but I just recently came across MathMama's (Sue Van Hattum) 2+ year-old post, "Sue's Top Ten Issues In Math Education" which are worth passing along if you've not seen them (several interesting comments follow it as well):

Next, a great long-read on the work of popular mathematician/topologist and Fields Medalist William Thurston, who just died a couple of months ago:

There's a remembrance page for Thurston, by the way, from the Cornell Dept. of Mathematics here:

Lastly, to some lighter reading, Norman Wildberger (who I've previously written about/linked to) recently notified me that he has a blog as well:

The blog is more commentary than mathematics, but I did find his Sept. 29 post interesting in that it echoes the same sense I've had about the onslaught of digital learning opportunities and decline of traditional university settings.
In fact, I'm surprised at the extent to which many universities (including in my area) continue to rapidly physically expand (at great cost) when it seems clear that fancy brick-and-mortar buildings and student attendance on-site, will be far less necessary in the decades ahead (especially for non-technical fields). Indeed, I've previously mused that the time will come when many students won't matriculate at a single university for a degree at all, but take courses from a schmorgasbord of schools.

Anyway, several excerpts from Wildberger:
"One of the momentous waves of change which is just now starting to roll over universities and academics around the world is a whole new online way of learning, accessible from essentially anywhere, for free. This will have a deep and profound effect on academic life…
"Increasingly you can log onto YouTube, or iTunes U, or other repositories, and start learning about anything you want. While in many areas the offerings are still in a scattered and embryonic form, the amount of material and resources is increasing exponentially, and the process seems clearly irreversible. More organized courses called MOOCS are using platforms such as Coursera, EdX, Udacity and others to train tens of thousands of students (how successfully is still a question)…

"No amount of feet dragging by academics, textbook publishers, college administrators, and other entrenched interests will likely stop this trend. The reality is that universities as sole repositories of high-end knowledge and learning is coming to an end. Academics like myself will have to adapt or be prepared to go the way of the harness and carriage-makers a hundred years ago with the advent of the motor car...

"The teaching role of universities, especially for large popular subjects, will inevitably change from providing primarily learning content to providing primarily assessment, support and certification. People will pay to get a certificate of achievement. They will no longer be so willing to pay to get instruction that they can easily get for free online…

"The current technology supports a massive expansion of knowledge into the third world, as well as empowering ordinary people, young and old, rich or poor, to learn, learn, learn, as long as they want to! It will be one of the really big game-changers in the brave new world of tomorrow. Education is a killer application for the internet."
I love that closing line, 'Education as a killer app for the internet'! (even if its fulfillment is still a ways off).  And while Wildberger acknowledges the "social" role universities can play in people's lives, he essentially argues it won't be enough to outweigh the costs and inefficiencies involved in on-site higher ed. instruction.

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