“Unlocking the Gates” and Tipping Points

I was up most of the night poring over Taylor Walsh’s new book “Unlocking the Gates: How and why leading universities are opening up access to their courses.”  It’s a deep and compelling companion to Abelard to Apple, and it’s one that I plan to assign as required reading to Georgia Tech’s newly chartered Educational Technology Council.

What convinced me that Elite institutions may have reached a tipping point beyond which the economics of access and scale will be forever changed was former Princeton president Bill Bowen’s remarkable foreword:

I think that present and prospective economic realities dictate that there be a serious rethinking of the way some forms of instruction are provided, especially in those parts of the public sector that have been hurt the most by funding cuts…I am well aware that in some quarters speaking of ―productivity gains‖ is close to blasphemy. But we have to get over that mindset: we just can‘t afford to continue doing business as usual. We have to find ways to do more with less. Resources saved in this way could be redeployed to teach more students or, conceivably, to teach advanced students more effectively…I have been on record for some time as being skeptical about the likely effects on productivity in higher education of various new technologies. But the evidence that Walsh presents about the work at Carnegie Mellon has caused me to rethink my position.

Abelard to Apple readers know  there is  substantial evidence that the biggest impact of open and online content will be to allow resources to be applied to more value-laden parts of the curriculum.  Taylor’s book is ground breaking and makes in no uncertain terms that argument using well-researched case studies.  “Unliocking the Gates” illustrates why this movement will continue to gain momentum at those universities whose resources, reputations, and global reach enable them to set their own agendas.

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