Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Older and Wiser?

The anxieties associated with the cost of higher education are well documented. Tuition fees are given the ‘thumbs up’, often by politicians who have made their way in the world oblivious to the burden of student debt.

In my final year with the OU, as a mature student, the cost of academic aspiration wasn’t lost on me. I remember complaining to a colleague, that I’d be glad when it was all done and dusted, and how finances had been tight for the best part of six years. She fixed me with a benign stare and asked, “But what price ignorance, Martin?” I couldn’t come back with a smart answer, I was reading aesthetics. And, besides, she was absolutely right.

I grew up in a household where the ‘U’ word was never spoken. It never left our lips because it was a destination too exotic to contemplate, and besides, many parents didn’t push too hard in those days, unless it involved following a boldly signposted apprenticeship.

Levering kids into a new educational orbit, can still be risky for those who fear some sort of compromise to their social heritage. I know a father who worked in physically demanding conditions to ensure a good education for his kids. Countless hours of overtime saw them through university and out the other side. But when the son took off, a qualified engineer, married to a bio-chemist and making his way in the world he’d been steered toward, the father accused him of getting ideas above his station. Hmm...

So, at the risk of getting above myself, I've started thinking about a return to study. I don’t want anything that's going to make unreasonable demands on my time or my bank account, so imagine my delight when I read about Coursera, mentioned in the Guardian a few days ago. Their blurb states, “We are a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students.”

Interested? I though you might be.

p.s. After running Poetry24 for around 21 months, Clare and I have agreed that we've taken the project as far as we can. We're still taking submissions until December 14th, and we are also keen to hear from parties expressing an interest in taking over the editorial responsibilities. Click here for more information.

16 comments:

  1. Check out Itunes University - the last tab in the iTunes store. That's what I'm going to do when I retire.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Rog, there's some very interesting lectures in there, but what appeals to me about Coursera is the opportunity to sign up for a structured course, albeit only a matter of weeks in most cases. Apparently, they are looking into how these courses might count towards a degree, ultimately. Although, I'm a bit worried to read that the Gates Foundation is helping to sponsor development.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's all happening! Sounds like a great opportunity Martin. Can I ask why are you worried about the Gates Foundation?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, these courses appear to be an attractive option for someone like me. I suppose I'm being a little cautious with regard to the involvement of any large commercial organisation that gets involved in education. But, the money has to come from somewhere, and if Bill Gates' can help keep the courses low-cost or free, that could potentially open up learning opportunities to millions. Not such a bad thing.

      Delete
    2. I wouldn't be worried about The Gates Foundation - it's an amazing thing - it's all about philanthropy (not profit) - Bill Gates is returning much of his wealth to better the world - he says 'Our foundation is teaming up with partners around the world to take on some tough problems: extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, the failures of America’s education system. We focus on only a few issues because we think that’s the best way to have great impact, and we focus on these issues in particular because we think they are the biggest barriers that prevent people from making the most of their lives.'

      I have nothing but the highest admiration for what he and his wife are doing. He is trying to eradicate polio and malaria in those countries where it's still a problem. Go for it Martin :)

      Delete
    3. I know that the foundation is doing wonderful things in the areas of tackling poverty and poor health. I was amused to learn that Bill Gates is very enthusiastic about the development of toilets that microwave waste, rather than flush it away. Now, there's commitment for you.

      I'll let you know how the course goes, if your interested. Thanks for helping to calm down the sceptic in me. It's my age, you know.

      Delete
  4. Martin, I've twice tried to leave comments on your recent posts, but they must not have come through. Perhaps I will have more luck today.

    I think Coursera sounds interesting. Having worked in HE all my adult life (in the US and then the past 20 years in the UK), I've seen so many changes. My overall feeling is that commodifying education, as has been the case in the US for decades and is happening now here, leads to students devaluing learning. There is very much an attitude of "Hey I'm paying for this, you serve me, I'm the customer". The concept of getting out of education what you yourself put into it, and of teachers as facilitators, seems to be a bygone idea.

    That's why I'm very curious to see how Coursera turns out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I took my first degree with the Open University, Christine, and continued with my postgraduate studies at City University, London. For me, the experience with the OU is unsurpassed. I also worked in HE, for 11 years, and even though I'm enjoying early retirement, there's still a few academic itches to scratch. A couple of years ago, I considered working for a PhD, but I just don't have the appetite for that level of commitment. Initiatives like Coursera certainly do sound interesting. We'll see how it goes. Watch this space.

      By the way, I totally agree with your views on the commodifying of education.

      Delete
  5. Thanks for flagging up Coursera... I think (is this going to be some other fascinating, useful yet time-consuming project you 'lure' me into! ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. BB, plug your ears and avert your eyes!

      Delete
  6. interested in free on-line education? I’ll say I am. I’ll check it out pronto.

    (see, I already speak foreign!)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh, for world enough and time...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know. I must be a sucker for punishment.

      Delete
  8. It sounds promising, Martin - good on you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. These are chunks of learning that I hope will slot in without too much hassle, Julie.

      Delete