The Future of Higher Ed #1: Accrediting Individuals, Not Institutions

I’ve been thinking a lot about Higher Education lately, specifically future scenarios mapping probable and preferable trajectories for universities. One thing that continues to be a real point of concern is the issue of accreditation – the process by which universities and colleges are certified by outside institutions to provide degrees. The current system is predicated on the idea that institutions are accredited by meeting certain guidelines. But does this necessarily HAVE to be the case?

What would Higher Education look like if individual scholars were accredited rather than institutions?

Image going back to a more Socratic method of education (not pedagogy, necessarily). Socrates wasn’t a tenured faculty member. He was someone who provided an education in collaboration with his students. In modern language, he was his own brand, and educational rockstar, as it were. What if, instead of accrediting universities, accrediting institutions bestowed this legitimacy on individuals?

Individual faculty would then be like modern “free agents,” to whom students would go to or stay away from based on the strength of their personal brand. Students could take online or f2f courses with the faculty of their choice, regardless of location. Universities would remain degree conferring institutions, largely serving the function of certifying that students had obtained sufficient credits from accredited faculty to be awarded a certain degree. Universities might differentiate by devising innovative degree programs and serving as a collaborative hub between individual scholars.

Faculty would have to learn to market themselves by developing and providing innovative, superior education in an on-demand fashion. Groups of academics, either from the same or different disciplines, could form “bands” (like Cory, Mark, Xeni et al at Boing Boing) to aid in their marketing and intellectual collaboration. Academics would be free, then, to create their own departments/committees, structured however they like in terms of organization, curriculum, revenue sharing, marketing, etc. Eventually, these academic “bands” might want to enter into a deal with a university to develop a degree/curriculum in return for the university taking on the marketing, payroll/taxes, etc., or to provide lab equipment, etc. This is similar to the arrangement the Boing Boing folks made with Federated Media, allowing them to focus on content while FM focused on the business back end.

Many academics would oppose this, of course, due to its elimination of the Tenure System. However, the tenure system in the United States is coming to an end. I’ve seen studies which suggest that 2/3 (or more) of all faculty at 2- and 4-year institutions are contingent faculty. Actually tenured faculty only make up about 10% or so of the system. So, tenure, if not already dead is dying in a hurry. By keeping accrediting power with the universities, academics essentially set themselves up to all be low-wage contingent labor. If academics could get past the seduction of tenure, they might find the system I’ve described to not only be more intellectually and creatively rewarding, but also more financially rewarding in the long term.

As we rethink the role, purpose and design of textbooks and traditional classrooms and pedagogy, we might also benefit from rethinking the entire operational structure of higher education.

What do YOU think?

The Important Difference Between Media and Social Media (Debate Edition)

Over at It’s Not a Lecture, David Wescott totally gets why the Democratic presidential debates last night show that the debate over whether or not we should just call social media “media” now is bogus:

I hope this debate serves as the wake-up call for the traditional media. This is why we can’t yet say “social media” is “all media.” When all media is truly social, the most prominent and important questions will be raised. That’s why the YouTube debates were so effective and so important. It’s only a matter of time – and not much time, at that – before they become the norm and not the exception.

Social media is about the democratization of communication, turning political communication into hot media once again, as opposed to the coolness of the traditional media. The chattering classes and talking heads were made very, very uncomfortable during the YouTube debates this cycle, especially the Republican YouTube debate. It makes people like the Gibsons, Matthews and Russerts of the world uncomfortable when the people begin to ask questions that really matter to them, as opposed to whatever the Village consensus is.

A true Open Source Politics looks a lot like the YouTube debates: people ask questions meaningful to them. However, one major modification would be the incorporation of a Digg-like system to filter the questions. I place much more faith in the American Public to filter the questions than people like Charles Gibson or Tim Russert. Open Source Debates are a lot more fun than the Perez Hilton/TMZ-style debates we’ve been getting. Run the filters on the screen in real-time, along with a dedicated Twitter feed with a cloud-style visualization. Link it to maps, so we can geolocate opinion trends (there’s one way to get past the whole Red State-Blue state bullshit).

The debates might be more chaotic and frightening, but they’d be a hell of a lot better than what we got last night. Social media isn’t the same as traditional media. There is a substantial qualitative difference, and an Open Source Politics needs to make certain the politicians and the public are aware of this.

PS, David runs a really great blog on Social Media, which is a regular read for me now. You can also follow him on Twitter.

EDITED TO ADD (4/17/08, 1pm): A lot of people have noticed last night’s hackery. And when those people have access to cheap and easily available social media tools, well, lots more people begin to notice (h/t AmericaBlog):


Software Geekery: Switching to Ubuntu?, Songbird, Flock and more

I am a died-in-the-wool, kool-aid drinking Mac fanatic. Most of you who know me are aware of this. However, as Apple has grown its market share recently, it has started making some curious moves, including filing for a patent on a built-in piece of spyware that acts curiously like Windows Genuine Advantage, calling back to HQ every 5-10 minutes to make sure you haven’t built a Hackintosh. This move makes me extremely uncomfortable (though I don’t know why anyone would WANT to run OSX on a PC, but whatever). Apple has always been cool with the privacy issue, but now that things are moving past cult status? Perhaps not so much. If Apple goes through with this, it would make me extremely receptive to making my next system an Ubuntu system.

Which leads to the question: what to do post-iTunes? I hate that I can’t get everything DRM free on iTunes, whereas Amazon has a good (and growing!) selection of DRM-free tracks available. Eventually, if Amazon ever improves the interface, I could see shopping there for music as opposed to the iTunes store. Which then leads to the next question, related to the earlier issue of moving to Ubuntu: what player/music manager to use in a post-Mac, post-iTunes environment? I recently ran across some good reviews for an open source (and you know how I feel about supporting open source) music player/manager called Songbird. This looks like a fantastic option and runs on Ubuntu (as well as Windows and Mac). I love that it’s on an open source Mozilla platform, and has several extensions already made (with more on the way). I assume it has a Gnome interface as well as KDE. Does anyone know about this? (When it comes to Linux, I’m definitely a Gnome man, never liked KDE.) Does anyone have any other non-iTunes, non-proprietary music players/managers they like? I would welcome some suggestions.

Since I’m being a contrarian here, I should also mention that I’m considering giving Flock a try as my full-time browser now that they’re out of beta. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love all the extensible goodness of Firefox, but I love that Flock has all the social media goodness baked right in, fress out the pack. Plus the UI is nice too. Anybody know of a reason (other than Greasemonkey) why switching to Flock would be a bad idea?

Okay, enough software geekery. But, I’d love to get some feedback on this one, especially from my Ubuntu and open-source nerdz out there.