Faster Horses!

It’s all coming down the road — if only some school or some foundation wanted to get there first, with the most impact and the benefit of seeing how the pieces fit together! Yesterday’s pointer to the Eagleton lectures begins to hint at the value of distributing video (with the classy “Yale” imprint in the upper left corner) as a promotion for the intellectual discourse of your institution; today, Tom points to the Antiquary’s Shoebox, where Bill Thayer collects and digitizes articles of interest that have drifted into the public domain. A staggering proportion of humanity’s most important written works are out-of-copyright; as more and more of that legacy makes its way into the indexable, printable, open-access web, it will intensify pressure to put the remaining copyrighted material online in useful form.
Now, let’s say you’re the dean or president of an academic venture, and your institution began entering, marking-up, formatting, and promoting an online library of academically-important sources. Let’s say that your school puts its faculty online in short-span audio/video spots that address topical problems in digestible segments. In the process of producing these materials, of course, your students and faculty learn better the ins and outs of the texts that they’re working with (as Thayer notes, Qui scribit, bis legit: “One who writes, reads twice”). Let’s say that your students can expect open access to much of their learning materials, written and audio and video; and let’s say that your faculty and your institutional name are bouncing around the Web as the font of this treasury of learning. Doesn’t that sound like a big competitive advantage for your institution as you scrabble to attract students (and grants, and faculty)?
These are the faster horses of technology as it interacts with the academy. Every penny you invest in technologies that perpetuate the familiar patterns of classroom/library instruction depreciates the minute it’s spent. Every penny you invest in the technological transformation of the academy along lines that match best-use cases of various technologies (including, especially, the seminar room and the book) will redound to your advantage multiple times.
On the other hand, no one ever got fired for signing up for another year’s subscription to BlackBoard, and being an advocate for a transformative approach to technology and academy hasn’t helped me land a job. Maybe the future does indeed lie with encumbering teachers, students, writers, readers, researchers, and a generally-interested public with systemic limitations in order to preserve the economic and pedagogical superstructure of the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century academy.

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