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The Future of Online Education

At a Technomy conference in California, Bill Gates predicted that higher education will change substantially over the course of the next five years. Using the internet, students will have access the best lectures from the best universities. These students would not attend a traditional brick and mortar school, but take different courses (and possibly lectures) delivered as an online education degree. Gates thinks that this online method of delivering education might also be free.  Furthermore, Mr. Gates believes that a traditional university is too expensive and too hard to gain admission. Also noteworthy, is his belief that the current university textbooks are too large. His message was clear, an online education was the future and the only way for universities to gain control and expand is to embrace technology.

Gates’ Windows have become a powerful metaphor for thinking about a multiple distributed system. Information is decentralized and not linear.  Twelve years ago, I completed my Master’s thesis on hypertext, or online text. Hypertext was supposed to be a more democratic way of knowing because you could pick and choose your own link to the next topic. For example, if you were reading about vacation spot like Florida, and the word, “sun” was a highlighted hypertext link, you could click on it and possibly end up on a landing page about the planets. The link to planets may not be an connection recognizable for someone wanting to go on vacation, but for someone writing a poem, one could imagine that link to be a fortunate association.

Historically, sophisticated readers have always connected texts and challenged the notion that the text stood on its own.  However, the concept of intertextuality is more easily illustrated by the limitless physical hypertext connections to the texts. No topic is as regular and simple as it was once assumed. There is no linear, hierarchical, author driven reality. One can imagine even greater creativity in the connection of text just because duality has been physically demonstrated. Distilled to its core, it is one of the definitions of creativity itself. At a 20,000 foot view this could be an example, albeit loose, of an alignment of art and science.

Arguments have been made that the idea of a successful path does not mean it is a truth.  That connections work for a certain number of people says more about the relationship between the people and not the subject matter they all agree on.  The topic organization is subject to the author and the reader of that text and there will be a partially subjective and objective standpoint. The texts will challenge boundaries and also just simply clash with one another.

How can the internet provide the democratization of a higher education?  The internet can represent the concept of many selves.  The word, “hyper” sometimes translates into something of excess. Multi-fragmented, the net can act as an expansion of marginalized groups (possibly race and gender), not unifying- but recognizing ourselves as fragmented.   The pathways can demonstrate interest and intent and ultimately desires found within those groups. Desires can certainly be socially constructed and/or not originating from a sense of lack.  The theorist Jean Baudrillard warns against taking your desires for reality which is an example of late capitalism. Within the text in a sense, democracy isn’t the desire for the, “same” but rather outcomes that don’t result in negating, “another.” Decentralized power dismantles hierarchical structures of the digital age, lending power to any possible group.

The idea of marginalized groups must have the same capitalistic desires as the white-western heterosexual group is simplistic on the part of those theorizing it. As one moves toward a successful path, it is harder to not conceive of that path as some sort of truth.  Groups and individuals must resist the globalization of their ideas without firmly including the paths other groups must negotiate. The concept of the rainforest destruction has a more timely message that the smallest of organisms is needed for all the other species to survive. That this intricate (web) of relationships is neither good nor bad but necessary for survival. Biological and other natural concepts (though far from a perfect example) that are displayed as what exist naturally and organic and neutral. One could posit that intelligent organisms have a higher level of responsibility to exert positive outcomes from personal desires. A simplistic yet sophisticated position of detachment and love. This is not a desire to become like someone or something, on the contrary, persuing one’s desires adds the responsibility to construct that concept to be intelligent enough not to marginalize any group. Democracy must go both ways. There is then a responsibility of the current marginalized groups to not hope for dissolving the western group that has propelled the technologies in the first place.

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