The Internet has made old-fashioned things possible on a global scale while making the world feel sort of cozy and nice. Which means the digital world just brought back kindness. And that's a very good thing.
The current press for either the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) or the Competency-Based Online Course (CBOC) makes clear that the old-style liberal arts colloquium has failed. But here's the thing: the false dilemma is nothing new.
Lyubomir Hristev, 24, works at a marketing agency in Sofia, Bulgaria, and sports a neatly cropped black goatee. Tech savvy, creative, bursting with ideas, Hristev hails from a new generation of entrepreneurial Bulgarians.
Like all of its predecessor academic responses to our skills deficit challenge, the collaboration sets people up for career success and then cuts their legs out from under them by providing no way to achieve it.
Higher education is a mature industry that is on the cusp of major transformations in the next two decades, and every college and university will need to prepare to maintain their quality, efficiency and relevancy in this climate.
From the vantage point of someone who never budged from my cautious optimism over what MOOCs might eventually become, I'd like to point out that even if massive open courses have not made free learning for all available yesterday, they have raised the bar in online education.
How do you answer the questions of 34,000 students? Well you don't, but we've learned that the community that has formed around our MOOC creates a supportive and interactive learning experience for those students who want to raise their hand and get involved.
It is actually quite valuable to at least think about each course as a separate entity, rather than lump them (and every other massive online class) together under the label "MOOC," since (as the researchers themselves highlight), no two MOOCs are quite the same.
For students today have access to the world's greatest library -- the Internet -- on their hip at any given moment, meaning everything from guidance to "the answers" are always just a Google search away.
An argument asks why schools and investors should be sinking millions into creating MOOCs that we all know just benefit older, educated, professional (and by implication well-off, middle-class) lifelong learners who already have so much.
If reading had evolved so that it only ever took place on a computer screen, would we look at the book as some primitive artifact, or as a marvelous and superior technology to be celebrated for its high-resolution user interface, portability and convenience?
While it's tempting to just fall back on the acronym and say that if a course is massive, open and delivered online then it must be a MOOC, once you dig into the details, it turns out that each one of these words is either ambiguous or open to challenge.
Rather than cannibalizing the applicant pool, MOOCs are likely to end up just one of many alternatives for students looking to shorten their time in school or (more likely) place out of entry level courses.
Basing our denominator on enrollments assumes that everyone who hits the enroll button on a MOOC web page should be considered the equivalent of a college student who signs up to take a course at their university. But is that an appropriate assumption?
As a cautious enthusiast, I'm thrilled that people like Professor Meisenhelder are around to reinforce the important lesson that just because Tom Friedman says something (including the MOOC) is the unstoppable wave of the future does not necessarily make it so.