Universities are traditionally black boxes. Doe-eyed students go in one end, custodians of wisdom wave their wands, and refined adults come out the other. While it’s easy to compare number of weights benches at the gym, or square footage of the student kitchen, it’s a lot harder to measure quality of education between universities. Even the best student survey is fundamentally flawed because students have nothing to compare their experiences to. You only learn once.
This is changing however as more institutions open their classrooms to remote learners through online platforms like Coursera and edX. You no longer need to pass a stringent application process, book a plane to Massachusetts and accumulate a mountain of debt to see what it’s like to sit in a lecture theatre at Harvard. I’ve been doing just that from my bedroom through edX’s CS50 course, which provides the same teaching materials and assignments as a Harvard undergraduate.
As a result, educational experiences are joining an open market where the best rise to the top. Whereas a student yesterday might have limited their course search to geographical location, tomorrow they will simply Google ‘top online university courses on computer science’ and come across a list like this.
The commoditisation of education is having huge impacts on the international student community. But how does it affect the perception of educators going into the future? Author Simon Sinek points out that currently there are very few ‘academic rockstars’ (@2:57). Unfortunately it’s true. Despite playing such pivotal roles in the lives of many, there are very few Zuckerbergs of academia penetrating public consciousness. This was previously put down to the limited impact any one educator can have on a class of students, but the internet removes these limitations and grants access to a class of millions.
Universities are only now catching up, and the void left by traditional education is being filled by independent content creators on YouTube.
Young people today may spend their mornings with John Green from Crash Course discussing Capitalism and Socialism (7 million views), their lunch break with Michael from Vsauce pontificating on the colour of a mirror (13 million views), and their evenings with singer/songwriter Bill Wurtz narrating the ‘history of the entire world, I guess’ (24 million views).
We forget that ‘entrepreneur’ used to be a synonym for ‘unemployed’, before it become a badge of honour for all aspiring business people. As the practise of pedagogy comes out of its black box, the same is set to happen to the educator. But we won’t be looking up to these personalities because of their business success or wealth. We will look up to them for how they reached out and changed our lives.
Educators will be the rockstars of the next generation.