Friday, October 05, 2012


Troubled today, but UH sports may be all that’s left of UH tomorrow

by Larry Geller

Which is more important to the average Hawaii couch potato—how well the UH football team does, or how many UH engineering students find jobs each year? Nevermind. In a decade or so, sports teams may overtake academics as the primary focus of university management. Here’s why.

The current University of Hawaii athletics scandal raises several important issues, of course, which have been explored in excruciating depth by our legislators and both Hawaii’s mainstream and alternative media (see, for example, the several articles by Ian Lind). I’ll bet more people know more intimate details of the Stevie Wonder concert fiasco than know where the proposed Honolulu rail stations will be, or know who their city and state representatives are.

If only legislators and the media would pay the same attention to non-athletic issues at the university. Remember the perpetually leaking roof on Hamilton Library that slowly rotted the collection? There would be more that legislators could help with, if that’s their intention, if they were as devoted to the quality of UH academic excellence as they are to the quality of their sports entertainment.

For many devoted fans, UH sports is exactly that—entertainment. Forget the legislators. Does anyone else care about the quality of the academic side? No one questions the deans of engineering or social work about their programs. Few cared when the School of Public Health was discontinued.

Consider this, though: over the next 20-30 years, perhaps, sitting in a classroom anywhere in the country will become the exception rather than the rule among educational institutions. UH will follow suit. Its classrooms will disappear so that we can get on with the demand for better, cheaper, and perhaps faster higher education. Sports might be all that’s left as classrooms vanish.

The experiments or pilot programs have already begun. In due course, any university that still adheres to the instructor/classroom lecture/exam model could be doomed to obsolescence. The online model illustrated in the videos below should become mainstream.

Look at it this way: education in the USA is becoming unaffordable as it is. If an education can be obtained cheaply sitting at home in front of an iPad, why go into debt for the rest of one’s life (which is what’s happening too frequently now)? Also, if we persist with bricks-and-mortar facilities paid for with unaffordable loans, how will this country compete with (say) India, where the online model is likely to prevail? Soon, other countries, more agile than we, could be turning out engineers, scientists, and other professionals in vastly higher numbers and at lower cost than we will. They’ll be achieving their success by taking advantage of online coursework developed both here and abroad.

The revolution could be driven by a need for this country to compete on the worldwide stage. Tuition at colleges and universities at all levels has risen, even during the recession, faster than the rate of inflation. At the same time, only sixty percent of entering students graduate, and good jobs are no longer waiting for those who survive the ordeal. As a result, graduates are finding it impossible to repay their student loans. This has created a “bubble” similar to the subprime mortgage boom. How will for-profit universities survive if this bubble bursts?

If bricks and mortar can no longer be supported, the pressure will grow to get online education into gear. Indeed, it may take online education to fuel a true economic recovery.

The incremental cost for educating the 99,999th student is the same as the 99,998th, and both are miniscule. It costs hardly anything for one more student to watch the videos, chat with peers, and take the quizzes.

Courses will be run by machines of loving grace, working without tenure, salaries or a need for office space and staff. One course will serve not a hundred students in a year, but tens or hundreds of thousands. It’s not inconceivable that the tuition cost of a quality engineering education (for example) could become vanishingly small.

How does it work?

Watch the videos below.

Sure, doctors and nurses still need physical presence, but that might be done at teaching hospitals. Some subjects (sociology, political science, literature, etc.) require no physical presence. And it’s expensive and increasingly dumb to purchase overpriced physical textbooks to lug back and forth to a classroom.

And let’s face it—it’s a better experience to kick back and view a commencement speech via streaming video with a beer in hand than to sit outside in the hot sun all the way in back where no one can see the speaker and everyone nearby is checking their Twitter account or email anyway.

Now, it’s harder to create an online football team, so imagine that as time goes on, the academics wither away, leaving athletics.  In time sports could be all that’s left of UH.


For the videos below, click the thingy at the lower right for full screen. The first video is very short—most of the meat is in the second one.

Peter Norvig: The 100,000-student classroom

In the fall of 2011 Peter Norvig taught a class with Sebastian Thrun on artificial intelligence at Stanford attended by 175 students in situ -- and over 100,000 via an interactive webcast. He shares what he learned about teaching to a global classroom.

Creative Commons license


Daphne Koller: What we're learning from online education

Daphne Koller is enticing top universities to put their most intriguing courses online for free -- not just as a service, but as a way to research how people learn. With Coursera (cofounded by Andrew Ng), each keystroke, quiz, peer-to-peer discussion and self-graded assignment builds an unprecedented pool of data on how knowledge is processed.

Creative Commons license


This is an awesome and timely article (given a subject in the recent debate). Online schools don't cost pennies, but finacial aid is available. My daughter is taking a 2-year course online. The quality of instruction is very good and since she's a single, stay-home mom, works out better than the cost of child care and transportation to a classroom. I wonder whether the welfare first-to-work program allows online education in its school requirements. If not, it should.

So when college acaedemics are all on-line I suppose so will athletics- why have a physical team when we can just have the team be a video game.

I had the same thought while writing the article. But for some reason, people still like to attend sports. It is more like a national religion.

Actually, I should have said World religion.

Martians staring down at Earth through their telescopes will see humans gathering in large numbers almost everyplace. They are engaged in banging a usually spherical object around in fixed, ritualistic ways.

As long as the sphere is round and of a light color, the religions appear innocuous enough. When they change shape and turn darker, the rituals are often accomplished by violence, unexplainable by everyday logic.


Post a Comment

Requiring those Captcha codes at least temporarily, in the hopes that it quells the flood of comment spam I've been receiving.

<< Home


page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Newer›  ‹Older