This past Thursday on the Diane Rehm Show on WAMU (88.5 FM) Walter Mossberg, personal technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal made several very interesting points about the future of television that are germaine to the college course.
Mossberg pointed out that TiVo, and now Apple’s delivery of individual television shows via iTunes, has upset the long-standing relationship between television viewers and the content providers. Since the beginning of television, viewers have been forced to watch television shows in the sequence the networks dictated. But now the technology makes it possible to watch television shows whenever and wherever we want. And now it is even possible to purchase portions of shows–indidivual skits from Saturday Night Live, for instance.
Similarly, iTunes has done the same thing to the record/CD album. From the time the LP pushed the 45 into oblivion, music buyers were forced to purchase entire albums just to get the songs they wanted. Now they purchase only the songs they want–and do so by the millions and millions.
Given these developments, can it be long before the college course breaks down into its component parts as well?
Take the history course, for instance. I teach a “survey” of 20th century East European history in a fairly classic mode. That is, I begin around the beginning of the century and end in the late 1990s, covering (and uncovering) the history along the way through lectures, readings, and collaborative activities. But what if my students only wanted bits and pieces of that course–the equivalent of one song from an album or one skit from SNL?
I know, you are recoiling in horror at the idea that students would be able to take and use only those bits and pieces of various courses that interested them. If you want to know what this feels like in the real world, you should probably get in touch with someone from NBC, CBS, ABC, or one of the big recording studios. They’ve lived this reality already. It couldn’t happen in higher education, you say…which presupposes that educational institutions somehow have the ability to withstand the subversive forces of technology that multi-billion dollar coporations did not have.
My guess is that the iTunesization of education will come sooner rather than later. Why? For one thing, the model is already in place in the two of the other areas of life our students care deeply about (television and music) and so the demand for similar delivery of educational content will grow rather than diminish. Second, the model will become more and more compelling for colleges and universities as well. Imagine the momentum in this direction that will develop as universities (and professors) realize that they can sell individual days or weeks of a course at a profit to as many students as want them. Tell me it won’t happen. Then perhaps we can discuss some real estate in Florida that I’ve been looking to unload cheap.
But if this scenario comes to pass, what will it mean for our students’ education? Read on tomorrow…