So when I heard Anya Kamenetz, once the passionate shoot-from-the-hip spokesperson against student debt, was reinventing herself as the passionate shoot-from-the-hip analyst of new media in education, I was prepared to give her a listen. I thought, well, at least she has enough dignity and intelligence not to turn herself into a pimpette for learn-while-you-sleep audiocassettes.

Whoa, was I wrong. She turned out a book that stays relentlessly on its Twitter-sized message: OMG! OMG! The internetz a library! (Speaking of Twitter, you can relieve your boredom with the book by following Kamenetz’s real-time feed about her visits to the dentist.)

Kamenetz turns out to be an adherent of the most shopworn education fantasy in history: education without educators! Like untold generations of blatherers before her, she opines that information technology will deliver education without an education workforce–therefore saving untold bazillions of dollars that would otherwise go to faculty salary. These savings will inevitably result in a “free or marginal-cost” education! At least for savvy “edu-punks” and “edu-preneurs.”

Right you are, Anya, and monkeys are flying through the webbing of my chair seat as we speak.

This fantasy didn’t work with prior revolutionary education technologies (like, hm, the book, the library, the pony express, the radio, or the tee-vee, where free education of the sort that Kamenetz envisions for non-Yalies can still be had for the asking.)

All those technologies have been accompanied, not only by more teachers and teaching, but also by massive growth in non-educator education employees (to tend to the technology, administer the credits, cash the checks, etc).

So–as I’ve already (pdf) pointed out, like, I dunno–centuries ago in texting years?–in The Informal Economy of the ‘Information University’–ditching the faculty (even the modest minority of them who actually earn wages higher than bartenders!) isn’t going to magically reduce costs:

…The concern with technology represents the faculty’s idea that students are willing to accept a disembodied educational experience in a future virtual university of informatic instruction. On the other hand, the student concerns are overwhelmingly attentive to the embodied character of their experience-where to park, what to eat and so on. Why do the faculty envision students willing to give up the embodied experience of the campus, when the students are in fact increasingly attentive to embodied experience?

Campus administrators continue to build new stadiums, restaurants, fitness facilities, media rooms, libraries, laboratories, gardens, dormitories and hotels: are these huge new building projects, funded by thirty years of faculty downsizing, really about to be turned into ghost towns?

In my view, the claim that (future) students will generally accept a disembodied education experience is at least a partial displacement of the underlying recognition, not that future students will accept an “education experience divorced from the body,” but the extent to which present students have already accepted an embodied experience divorced from “education.”

While the dystopic image of distance education captures the central strategy of the information university (substituting information delivery for education), that dystopia erroneously maps that strategy onto the future, as if informationalization were something “about to happen” that could be headed off at the pass, if we just cut all the fiber-optic cables…

Close readers will know that this piece, substantially rewritten and expanded, became ch 2 of HTUW. For a more fun, blistering and relentlessly scatological skewering of Kamenetz, you can’t do better than the anonymous purveyor of ginandtacos.com (h/t to Bill Benzon of The Valve).






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