A New Type of University?

Or Back to Victorian Values?

Salman Khan, founder of the online enterprise which provides video lectures, the Khan Academy, has set out an alternative vision for education in a new book, The One World School House. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on this exciting new publication (which I must admit I am unlikely to buy):

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Khan’s bold vision for education includes a chapter on higher education:

In a chapter titled “What College Could Be Like,” Mr. Khan conjures an image of a new campus in Silicon Valley where students would spend their days working on internships and projects with mentors, and would continue their education with self-paced learning similar to that of Khan Academy. The students would attend ungraded seminars at night on art and literature, and the faculty would consist of professionals the students would work with as well as traditional professors.

“Traditional universities proudly list the Nobel laureates they have on campus (most of whom have little to no interaction with students),” he writes. “Our university would list the great entrepreneurs, inventors, and executives serving as student advisers and mentors.”

In the book, Mr. Khan also advocates for a separation of universities’ teaching and credentialing roles, arguing that if students could take internationally recognized assessments to prove themselves, the playing field would be leveled between students pursuing different forms of higher education. Although students would not be graded in the imagined university he describes, they would compile a portfolio of their work and assessments from their mentors.

“Existing campuses could move in this direction by de-emphasizing or eliminating lecture-based courses, having their students more engaged in research and co-ops in the broader world, and having more faculty with broad backgrounds who show a deep desire to mentor students,” he writes.

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Actually this really isn’t so much of an alternative vision as a fervent wish for a different world coupled with the demand for a “level playing field” which here means removing the elements which means that universities offer a genuinely higher education. It also has an echo of the Victorian patricians like Lever and Salt providing out of hours education for their workforce.  So it really doesn’t sound quite as visionary as all that.

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