TechCrunch has a post on Pitzer College offering a “Learning from YouTube” class. To quote from that post:
Pitzer isn’t known as an intellectual powerhouse among small liberal arts schools (although to be honest I am somewhat biased as I went to a rival school, Claremont McKenna). But this may still be just about the most ridiculous class the school, or any school, has ever offered.
I don’t know about the reputation of Pitzer College. I don’t know the track record of students that graduated there – but I do have a sneaking suspicion that if you were to look 10-20 years out, Pitzer and Claremont McKenna students won’t have dramatically different life outcomes, particularly if you adjust for IQ. So if the kids are enjoying the time they are wasting …
I do remember how I felt when I was in college. I felt bored, really, depressingly bored. I even knew I was wasting most of my time, but didn’t know what else I should be doing. I did well enough academically, but all through it I felt I was going through the motions, not really fully engaged. In perfect hindsight, I realize I should have dropped out and started a business, but that was simply “not done” in India in the 80′s. I remember the feeling of liberation, when I told myself one day when I was 27, “I will mentally renounce my PhD, go back a few years and start from the basics again”.
This time I learned software, no not Computer Science, but practical software, as in hacking code. I started at the bottom of the stack – my first job was to hack assembly code for a living. Then I moved “up” a bit and wrote embedded C code for a switch. It was very helpful to get that close to the metal feeling for code. Fortunately, software (and now the internet) is one business where it absolutely doesn’t matter what your background is -and I was careful never to reveal that I was way “overqualified” for those jobs!
In much the same way, I learned sales and marketing, by actually doing them – making all kinds of “stupid” mistakes but figuring out slowly. I remember a friendly customer advising me once “You guys have great software, but send me another salesman, you don’t know how to sell”. Trust me, there is no better education than that – I say that as someone who has spent far too many years in conventional education.
Over time, I have come to the conclusion that for the vast majority of people, college is actually an expensive (in more ways than one) waste of time. It is not because classes are not taught well – even granting the best teachers with the best of intentions, the whole structure of higher education is ill-suited to the majority of students. The main reason is that most students cannot possibly know why, say, Quantum Physics or Theory of Algorithms is relevant to anything they will face in the real world. That kind of knowledge is very contextual – you better understand Quantum Physics well if you work in semiconductor fabrication, for example, but frankly, only very few of us will ever learn it well just for the sheer intellectual challenge of it.
Not having that kind of meta-knowledge (knowing why something is important), students have to go on faith that what is being taught is important, or the all-too-common practical alternative, fake that faith. We live in a time where asking for such faith from young adults is asking too much.
That is true even in an ideal world where every professor knows his or her stuff, and can teach it well. In the real world, particularly in major brand-name universities, many professors consider teaching to be a price they pay for the privilege of conducting research. Then there are colleges, particularly in a country like India, where teaching is simply no good at all. Pathetic waste of time would be a polite understatement for what passes for education in most colleges in India.
Now, there is value in college, but most of it is the value of connections and networks – the value of meeting like-minded smart people, and so on. My point is that conventional college is a very expensive way to get that value.
So what’s the alternative? Learn by doing. Start getting students into the work-force early – at 18. Give them real work responsibility and pay them for it – the act of receiving real money motivates people more than anything else I know!
This is not something I just preach. We actually practice that in AdventNet. For some years now, we haven’t required college credentials for employment. We disregard grades. In the past 2 years, we have started a program in our Chennai center, where we enroll students after high school in our own internal “University” which combines work and education. I am very happy to report that results have been outstanding.
I have written on this subject before. Since there are multiple posts in each subject, I am linking the search results that display all of them:
Perils of Credentialism: http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=perils+of+credentialism
College Eduction and the Placebo Effect (where I talk about the real value of college and how to get at that value without incurring all the expense): http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=college+education+and+the+placebo+effect