By Michael Albert at Jul 12, 2008
So - I am worrking on the third week's content for the two classes I am responsible for in the first session of ZSchool. One is on Parecon, an intro, overview, evaluation, etc. etc. The other is a seminar on parecon/parsoc oriented to people who are already serious advocates.
Some early observations on the experience.
(1) The faculty role isn't easy, but it will get easier in time. As with university teaching, or public schools, or anything at all, the first go around you have to prepare everything from scratch - lectures, readings, ancillary tools like forums, etc. etc. For later rounds, it is all in place, already.
(2) The student roles isn't easy...but is a function of the student's habits and interests and time, and entirely at the student's control.
(3) The school software - called moodle - is incredibly flexible and powerful. It is easy for a teacher to upload all kinds of content, and for students to utilize it. Q/A interaction is simple, student interaction with students is simple, creation of new content is simple, even grading should people want to do it, etc.
(4) Of course the human dimension of literally interating first hand with a live person is missing, and this is no small loss. But - as I remember - and it was a long time ago - lecture learning, this has more potential, not less. Going to lectures with dozens or hundreds of other students has some pluses, but I think they are more than offset by the ability to marshall time as one likes, the ability to not have to compete for attention, the possibility of more, not less, diverse involvement with others, etc.
(4) So, incredibly, I think, ZSchool, seems to me to have enormous potential. I hope people will think on this, and participate comes the Fall. For that matter, I hope those now participating will kick it up a notch or two.
Imagine, for example:
- In October, for the second session, suppose we have 35 courses.
- Let's be optimistic and imagine 5,000 students. Some take more than one course, let's say, on average, one in five take two courses, so in total the 5,000 students take 6,000 classes.
It goes for its ten weeks.What has transpired by the end - moving into still another session. Well, in this optimistic but far from impossible scenario...
- At $50 per course, students woudl deliver $300,000 to ZSchool - or $1.2 million a year, for four semesters
- With 35 faculty let's suppose, in this scenario, they might receive $5,000 each per course. That would leave $500,000 a year for Z which would be an incredible aid to growth.
- It would convey $20,000 a year to each of 35 faculty, for 40 weeks each doing one preparation each. That would greatly subsidize the freedom and condition of the faculty, particularly activist faculty, and particularly from less developed nations.
What about the educational merit:
- The 5,000 students, a number that would presumably grow steadily in time - would each benefit from a very serious in depth treatment of some area of focus, topic, etc. And this could happen four times a year.
- Students would also meet and develop bonds with other students - many, online, and likely some in person, too, facilitating organizing, etc.
- There would be an emerging synergistic politics and comittment...
And, as early spin offs, we would be able to
- Create a high school version - tailored to match high school curricula, but provide serious content
- Develop the ZSchool version into something like a university - including research and development.
- Develop tavelling or local incarnations of ZSchool, with live face to face interaction...
I won't belabor the picture. Do we want to create our own means of outreach, education, research, consciousness raising - on a large scale - or do we want to leave this to corporate universities, both on and off line, as is now the case?
This picture is not beyond our means. The only issue is whether we have the will to make it all happen, both as workers on the project, and as students iwthin the project.
It really is simple, I think. If Z users collectively sign up in large numbers for a class or two - in October - and then seriously participate as they are able - we will be on the way to the above rich and diverse benefits. If not, we won't. Neither technology, nor talent, nor knowledge, nor anything but personal will stands between us and success in this undertaking, or so it seems to me. Of course, the complicating factor, is that it is the will of thousands of people that is needed - but then again, isn't that what changing society always requires?