It’s Disruptive Policy not Disruptive Technology

The fever-dream formerly known as California continues to provide insight into where we as a country might be headed. This week, we’re hearing about proposed bill AB 1306, which proposes to create a new faculty-free “university” that will provide exam-based degrees. (Jim Julius, you win the prognostication prize on this one). Looking at the bill, it seems it was introduced weeks ago, but may have been caught in a reporters post-SB 520 sweep.

Here’s the relevant section:

The New University of California shall provide no instruction, but shall issue college credit and baccalaureate and associate degrees to any person capable of passing examinations.

The New University of California is authorized to contract with qualified entities for the formulation of peer-reviewed course examinations the passage of which would demonstrate that the student has the knowledge and skill necessary to receive college credit for that course.

A very new sort of university indeed. But did you catch that “authorized to contract with qualified entities” bit?

Here’s some more bill text for you:

The goal of the university is for its students to obtain the requisite knowledge and skills to pass the examinations administered by the university from any source, such as massive open online courses, the student deems appropriate. When the student feels that he or she is ready to take an examination, the student shall pay the examination fee, present acceptable identification at the examination, and, upon passage of the examination, receive academic credit.

Simple, right? The bill goes on to say that once you get enough credit through testing, you get your degree.

This is why I get so apoplectic when people talk about MOOCs as disruptive technology. There is not a single thing this “New University of California” does that could not have been done technologically in 1898. Has online education suddenly improved to the point where people can gain never-before-seen levels of competency without attending classes? Hardly. Most MOOCs I’ve looked at are poorly designed even by late 90s standards, and besides, education’s killer technology — the book — has made independent learning possible for at least 500 years.

The real question to ask is why policy proposals like this — formerly the domain of fringe elements — are increasingly seen as innovation. What has changed? The answers to that are complex, and have little to do with technology. But understanding the reasons behind *that* is what is crucial to understanding where we are headed and why we are headed there.  I think that “authorized to contract with qualified entities” clause is a piece of it. But the story goes much, much deeper than that….

2 thoughts on “It’s Disruptive Policy not Disruptive Technology

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