Carey, who directs the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank, discusses his belief that the computer and the cloud are the future of higher education.
The author begins with a brief account of a course he took at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “Introduction to Biology—The Secret of Life,” which he initially conceals is online. He revisits this experience throughout the book, advocating for its design and opportunities for students: The course is available to anyone with an Internet connection; students can help one another; students can rewind and redo difficult portions. Later, Carey chronicles his visit to the actual class and tells us that the online lectures were much better than the live one. The author also discusses his trips to key institutions that are moving resolutely toward a major online presence (Stanford, MIT—which has partnered with Harvard University), describes interviews with significant players in the technological revolution (he spent lots of time in Silicon Valley), and lets us know that the old way—the “hybrid university,” he calls it—is in its death throes. Tuition is soaring; many students aren’t graduating; many aren’t learning much of anything (too much partying). Carey believes that large universities, especially, are trying to do too much, with simultaneous emphases on the liberal arts, research and vocational training. Much of this, he believes, has deleterious aspects. Most professors interested principally in their own work, for example, don’t teach very well, and Harvard and a host of other top traditional universities are, well, elitist. Writing about his walk through Harvard’s campus: “The gates were open and anyone could walk through them, but they were barriers nonetheless, architectural messages that were not hard to understand.”
The author, a true believer, does not spend much time on counterarguments and outlines a future that some will find exhilarating, others depressing.