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Incumbents Try the Borg Strategy

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The internet has the potential to revolutionize higher education, as new providers and platforms such as Khan Academy, TED, the various MOOC providers, and our own Mises Academy offer modular, flexible, and specialized alternatives to the medieval model that continues to dominate the establishment universities. The early -- and predictable -- reaction of the incumbents was to denounce the entrants as cheap, inferior, fly-by-night operations. After all, the last thing mainstream universities want is actual diversity. Lately some have been trying a new strategy, namely trying to incorporate the best features of the new platforms into the established models, a sort of Borg-like, assimilation strategy. An article in today's Slate describes this trend, focusing on a "flipped" model in which students watch lectures at home, online, and do problems and exercises in class, with the help of instructors and classmates. I personally like the flipped model a lot and use these techniques myself. But the Slate writer misses the broader point. The expensive, cumbersome, and rigid university structure is not particularly well suited for the flipped model. Most highly paid, tenure-track faculty are not trained to be in-class coaches and problem solvers, and there is little connection between their research and this kind of classroom activity, at least for undergraduate education. The coaching sessions can themselves be organized by lower-cost entrants; you don't need a huge university campus with a library, dorms, and football stadium to organize problem-solving sessions.

Peter G. Klein is Carl Menger Research Fellow of the Mises Institute and W. W. Caruth Chair and Professor of Entrepreneurship at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business.

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