Meet Doctor Robot, PhD.
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  • Anthony

    “…there is a strong national interest in reducing the cost of education” – as well as determining what purpose education serves post secondary. Going forward, the subsidiarity principle ought to be modified for use in higher education (public good provided at both effective and institutional level competent to deliver it).

  • Let me tell you a little story. It was the summer of ’63 and I was taking a class in American literature at Columbia. The professor was an old man plucked from retirement. So old, in fact, that he was the only professor I had who had also taught my father back in the 30s. Form the outset it was clear that he had suffered a severe stroke which caused him to so stutter badly that he was almost impossible to follow. I was incensed. What did Columbia think it was doing charging money for lectures by a man who couldn’t talk? Only politeness kept me from walking out. Fifteen minutes later I was rapt. The man didn’t teach me about American Literature – a robot could have done that and there were plenty of them teaching back then too – he taught me to love American Literature. A capacity I was able to share with my own son a couple of years ago reading The Sun Also Rises together.

    I couldn’t agree more that the price of education has become absurdly inflated and the quality all too often debased. Regardless of the institutional baggage that has caused this state of affairs someone has to care enough to pass the spark of excellence from one generation to the next. If universities become incapable of doing it, we will have to find another kind of institution to do it. I think robots and computers will play an important role in improving the cost benefit ratio, but human interaction will always be indispensable for real transmission of cultural values.

  • T. Jackson

    Bingo! Two comments in and Lorenz Gude has the correct response to this ridiculous proposal of robotic professors. What is lost with roboprof is the horizon of instruction, to which the real (and responsible) professor (who knows his stuff) continually alerts the students. It is not roboprof who will recognize from the attire, the questions, the age, etc., of his class what they will respond to in the way of examples and parallels from their own lives to the literary, philosophical, and historical worlds to which the course is introducing them.

    If you want to reduce costs, increase teaching loads back to what they were at mid-twentieth century, cut back on gold-plated dormitories, and slash budgets for administrative appointments. Every “equity officer” comes with a staff and a demand for office space.

    The return to appropriate teaching loads is what will really infuriate the AAUP. It will insist “research” is imperiled. Bahh. Read Jacques Barzun’s book, from the early 1960s, on the cult of research.

  • thibaud

    Maybe the author’s view on this is heavily influenced by his perch as a prof, but the barrier here is not the AAUP’s hostility but the lack of interest on the demand side of the equation. The demand that matters isn’t from students; it’s from EMPLOYERS.

    When and if you see major corporations signal a willingness to accept my completion of online MIT courses as equivalent to receiving a degree from MIT, then online will really take off.

    Perhaps that will happen someday, but I don’t see any sign of it yet. Right or wrong, at this point none of the corporate recruiters or hiring managers I know would consider an online course as being in the same league as a real one.

  • Eurydice

    I guess it depends on what is meant by “learn.” I think there’s a place for pre-packaged education, however it’s transmitted – and I don’t doubt that there’s no difference between a human saying “learn this, or else” and a robot saying “learn this, or else.” But there’s also a place for the skilled communicator who can put information into perspective, who can connect information to other subjects, who can correct misinterpretation, who can encourage creativity, who can convey why the subject is important or even interesting.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “The robotic software did have disadvantages, the researchers found. For one, students found it duller than listening to a live instructor. Some felt as though they had learned less, even if they scored just as well on tests. Engaging students, such as professors might by sprinkling their lectures with personal anecdotes and entertaining asides, remains one area where humans have the upper hand.”

    What a petty quibble with a system still in its infancy. I can even answer this quibble with a common sense fix. Have famous Professors tape their class lectures, which can be paused to ask the computer questions. In this fashion you get the best of both worlds at your own convenience.

  • raf

    Good professors are indeed superior to robots. Unfortunately, not all professors are good professors, and the trend may not be favorable. If this were not so, robots would not be a threat.

  • Hubbub

    Was not the wide-spread use of computers touted to bring down the costs of higher education? Obviously that hasn’t happened. So, why are we so sure now that use of robots and robotic instruction will lower the costs?

    Lower costs will not happen until Universities institute change in their fundamental structure and attitude as it relates to education and the public. And the government, need I add?

  • Kris

    I rarely interact with Anthony (@1), so let’s seize this occasion: one of your sharper comments yet.

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