Gates: Colleges’ future is on the web

In five years, self-motivated learners will earn a college degree online for $2,000 instead of paying $200,000 to a “place-based” university, predicts Bill Gates. College needs to be “place-based” only for parties, joked the Harvard drop-out at the Techonomy conference.

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  1. Yet Microsoft still has actual *office buildings* where people congregate physically. Bill should explain why this business needs to be location-based to a greater extent than a university does.

  2. George Larson says:

    How will science and engineering majors take their lab courses? Are they going to suggest simulations over reality?

  3. I’m not sure how the concepts of “self-motivated learners” and “college degrees for everyone” are going to reconcile. I predict I’ll still have plenty of students in the lecture hall five years hence.

  4. ChemProf says:

    The online education folks are all thinking about classes that don’t have labs. No one has come up with a good solution for lab courses, especially for upper division classes where you need specialized equipment, chemicals, etc.

  5. If you go back and read first editions of Bill Gates’ book called “The Road Ahead,” you’ll see just how blind he is to societal changes. He’s a technologist and a businessman, but he’s a lousy forecaster. His book was laughably wrong in the things it predicted, and his track record at Microsoft was laughably bad at foreseeing where technology was going and what the public wanted. (Remember his comments about Microsoft Bob being the UI of the future?) If Gates hadn’t happened to have the connections that allowed him to get the contract to supply software for the original IBM PC, he and Microsoft would be a footnote in IT history. As it was, he was smart and ruthless in exploiting his family’s connections and the contract he won, but he’s tone-deaf when it comes to seeing where the future is going — at least until someone else shows it to him. He MIGHT be right about how quickly online universities will mature, but he’s certainly not someone I’d cite as an expert opinion about it.

  6. The critics in this thread do not include non-academic support for education, as the comment about lab courses illustrates. Lab courses constitute the most plausible objection to on-line education. While lab courses are the stumbling block over which virtual schools apparently fall, on-the-job training can replace a lot of lab coursework. Doctors and nurses used to learn on the job. Why cannot surgeons apprentice at age 12 to veterinarians?

    Remember the newspaper account of the kid who got a chemistry book (something like __The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments__) and built a backyard lab? He set himself the task of isolating every naturally-occuring element in the periodic table and had reached the rare earth elements when the NRC carted his lab away in lead-lined caskets.

    Someone once wrote to Mr. Gates, asking how to become a programmer. He responded: “Work through Knuth’s __The Art of Computer Programming__ and give me a call”.

    My objection to Mr. Gates is that he does not extend his vision to pre-college education. The Gates Foundation is too respectful of the prevailing K-12 school model.

  7. georgelarson says:

    Malcolm Kirkpatrick

    Will our risk adverse society allow kids to experiment with chemistry? I recall Oliver Heaviside almost burned down his parent’s home. I recall Edison as child foolishly experimenting with Nitro Glycerin. Would you like a kid to make Mercury Sulfide like the Alchemists did? I know I would not want any child playing or making unsupervised liquid Nitrogen, pure Sodium or pure Oxygen.

    I am in favor of apprenticeships, but

    Why do you think a 12 year old could handle a veterinary apprenticeship to learn surgery? I am sure I could find a lot of kids to volunteer. Would it be legal? In Virginia exposing someone under 18 to a rotary slicer on the job is a safety violation. What about the dangerous drugs and gases? Do you have any idea how dangerous wounded animals can be? Why would a vet want a 12 year old assistant or apprentice to train as a surgeon or a vet and assume responsibility for the child’s safety?

    There was a time when they were apprenticed very young, but they were not all expected to survive. Kids were recognized as expendable. One of the reasons they were so young was to provide free labor to pay their masters for teaching the skill.

  8. (George Larson): “Will our risk adverse society allow kids to experiment with chemistry?…There was a time when they were apprenticed very young, but they were not all expected to survive. Kids were recognized as expendable….”

    Either kids experiment in school, on the job, on their own, or not at all. Why suppose that experimentation will yield fewer injuries when dues-paying members of the NEA or AFT supervise the experiments than when employees of non-State corporations supervise? People do not become more intelligent, more altruistic, better-informed or more capable when they enter the State’s employ.

    (George Larson): “…One of the reasons they were so young was to provide free labor to pay their masters for teaching the skill.”

    Markets determine wages, unless the State intrudes. Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery, black or white, male or female, young or old. Today, children work, unpaid, as window-dressing in a massive employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel.

  9. georgelarson says:

    Malcolm Kirkpatrick

    “Either kids experiment in school, on the job, on their own, or not at all. Why suppose that experimentation will yield fewer injuries when dues-paying members of the NEA or AFT”

    I am not a teacher or a fan of their unions, but please cite numerous examples of children maimed in labs supervised by teachers.

    Liquid Nitrogen will freeze and kill a digit and require amputation.

    Pure Sodium is explosive in water and the residue is corrosive

    Ordinary non combustibles are extremely combustible in a pure Oxygen environment.

    Have you let your children work unsupervised in your home chemistry lab to isolate all the elements. What did they create? How did it turn out? I truly hope all went well.

    I used to supervise young men with heavy equipment, firearms and explosives. They took careful watching. Children would require more.

    I should point out the large number of young people who are attracted to Chemistry to make explosives as well as psycho active drugs.

    High explosives are very easy to make and also very likely to detonate unexpectedly. Why do you think Nobel invented dynamite? He lost family in a gun cotton explosion. How would you prevent a child from attempting to create explosives? I know “field expedient” ways to improvise low explosives too. Do you want them secretly stored in your neighborhood by some creative young chemist?

    Apprenticeships were the results of contracts and free markets. Labor was the price for the training, materials and tools used. in some cases the apprentices had an allowance from home. I do not see how you can it slavery, even though they may be illegal today.

    Why do you think a 12 year old could handle a veterinary apprenticeship to learn surgery?

  10. George,
    1. Please explain why experiments would be safer if performed by government employees than by employees of non0State organizations.
    2. I did not call apprenticeship slavery; I called compulsory school attendance slavery.

  11. Sorry. “Performed” should be “supervised”.

  12. George Larson says:

    Malcom

    I am sorry I misunderstood you about slavery.

    “Please explain why experiments would be safer if performed by government employees than by employees of non State organizations”

    I am talking about unsupervised student as you suggested

    “Remember the newspaper account of the kid who got a chemistry book (something like __The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments__) and built a backyard lab? He set himself the task of isolating every naturally-occuring element in the periodic table and had reached the rare earth elements when the NRC carted his lab away in lead-lined caskets. “

    “Either kids experiment in school, on the job, on their own, or not at all. Why suppose that experimentation will yield fewer injuries when dues-paying members of the NEA or AFT”

    on their own

    It sounded to me like you were endorsing this approach.

    Experiments won’t be safer. The students will be safer. Young people have a much lower concern for there own safety, the safety of others are not aware of risks and have less experience and training to deal with emergencies. I have seen young people get very irrational and quickly go into shock when hurt. Young people consider higher risks more acceptable than adults.

    I have no problem with non government or non union adult supervision. I have a problem with no supervision in the lab. I worry about children attempting to make illegal or dangerous products either by intent or by accident, disposing products and storing reagents improperly.

  13. (Malcolm): “Either kids experiment in school, on the job, on their own, or not at all. Why suppose that experimentation will yield fewer injuries when dues-paying members of the NEA or AFT supervise the experiments than when employees of non-State corporations supervise?”

    In other words, on-the-job training. True, young people take risks; they engage in unprotected sex, they surf Pipeline on 10’+ days, they ski and snowboard extreme slopes, climb trees and cliffs without tackle, and drive too fast. As a teen, I emptied the powder from firecrackers and made bombs. I could have lost fingers or my eyesight. I don’t see in this any argument for selecting some category of teen behavior for extra adult supervision. The most adults can do is implore them to be safe and expect to be ignored.

    My point about the chemistry student was that self-education in a lab course is possible. As an additional point, it demonstrates that the NRC precautions are excessive, since the kid lived into adulthood, although he did not go into chemistry. I recommend E.O. Wilson’s account of his development in __Naturalist__. Another example of self-education in a lab course.

  14. (George): “Experiments won’t be safer. The students will be safer.”

    Between 1987 and 1997, juvenile hospitalizations for human-induced trauma in Hawaii fell in summer, when most Hawaii schools operated on a September through June schedule.

  15. georgelarson says:

    Malcom,

    I am very aware of the risks of attending school. I never felt safe in school. I attended 3 high schools, 2 Jr Highs and 5 elementary schools. I was never completely aware of the risks I was taking in a laboratory class and they were not as serious. Of course school is more dangerous than being alone on your own there are more people to interact with. People were the threat. That is a problem that goes with any institution containing children, public or private.

    When I learned more Chemistry I got a good idea of the risks I was taking.

    I do not think your examples of experimenting are “educating” children or yourself. Playing with gun powder is not the same as making it. I do not care about their athletic attempts or thrill seeking. I do care about proposing pointless risks in the name of education.

    Do you allow your children to assume the risks of experimenting as you suggest?

    Do you give your unsupervised children black powder or battery acid to play with so they can learn chemistry? Do you let them experiment with firearms? They could learn ballistics. Do you give your 12 year old the keys to your car to experiment with? He could learn mechanical engineering and physics.

  16. George,
    I do not see that we have an argument. Teenagers take risks that would make their parents cringe. We agree. That was my point about gunpowder, and surfing, and skiing, etc.
    Children can learn independently. That is a second point on which we agree.

    Some of those learning experiments are risky. E.O. Wilson has a frightening and funny story about a youthful encounter with cottonmouth. I don’t see how any certification by the goons with the guns (the State) makes chemistry labs safer than on-the-job training.

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