Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Academic Busking

You know, as universities rush to get on the distance-learning bandwagon, one may legitimately ask what exactly the universities themselves contribute (besides brand prestige) to non-credit programs like edX. When working as an adjunct, I was paid the equivalent of one student's tuition, for a 90-seat class. For the same cost, any one of those students could hired me directly and had my undivided attention. The only value the university added was a room, bookkeeping, and credit towards a degree, for which it took a ~98.9% cut. Even pimps and record labels don't take that much.

Indeed, musicians can sometimes make more playing on street corners than they could if they "made it big," once the record company takes it's share. Why not academic busking? Sure, it's not practical for an scholar to, y'know, run out to the local stoa or peripatos and start teaching at the crowd. But if there is a demand for online, no-credit lectures, then why shouldn't the ones actually producing the content be the ones controlling, and yes, profiting from it? Why not cut out the middle man and provide courses directly to students?

There seem to be a couple of projects out there with similar ideas. Two for-profit companies, Udemy and Straighterline's Professor Direct, allow professors to create their own course content and set their own price for online courses. Of the two, Udemy seems the most scholar-friendly (it allows for free courses, while Straighterline sets a $49 minimum). But these are still, ultimately, commercial companies.

My vision of academic busking would work more like open-source software, crowdfunding, or voluntary pricing for music, where the students have some degree of choice about whether or how much they pay. Contrary to free-market dogma, these models actually seem to work, if one can drum up enough interest. Perhaps one could provide a "premium" service, where students get individual attention, while the basic content is free.

(I suspect I'm going to turn this into a paper proposal for the SBL's "Blogger and Online Publication" group.)

1 comment:

  1. I'm caught up now. I went through them in a completely disorganized order. More fun that way.

    You're onto something here. Do it!


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