The administration is not yet thinking in terms of new institutions as it seeks places to invest borrowed dollars.  In the way they are spending some budgeted dollars, they seem to sense that the Internet is integral to future solutions, but the government seems unsure how exactly the Internet can be integral to job creation and a stable, healthy society.  In the previous piece, I show how government-supported Internet news gathering, production and distribution can form the foundation for a vibrant new societal institution.  Consider that government-supported online education can form the foundation for new institutions essential to a healthy, creative, secure, educated society.

A number of studies have come to the conclusion that the strength of a teacher’s talents for performing her or his job has more to do with the quality of a teacher’s education than any other single variable.  Bill Gates, Obama and others have emphasized the importance of training and maintaining excellent educators.  Consider that we open up this process to the web.

I’ve watched several hundred hours of college course lectures by the outstanding lecturers videotaped by The Teaching Company.  I watch and listen to these performers while exercising in the morning.  I’ve listened to an untold number of audio tape books and lectures while traveling by car.  I’ve received the equivalent of several additional college degrees of information while engaged in exercise or transportation.  Almost any of these educators were better at communicating content succinctly than the professors teaching similar subjects when I was in college.  Many of these video lectures are superb.  Somehow I slipped through four years of an undergraduate education that I adored without establishing rapport with a single professor whose work I respected.  I often designed independent studies.  I found a faculty sponsor and studied a particular subject on my own.  Classes bored me.  The passion I experienced in my chosen subjects was not uncovered by enlightened teachers, but by myself.

We can open up the education of Americans to Internet interactions with the very best teachers by producing video that can be distributed on the web.  This would be a government-supported program.  Highly rated teachers would lecture on tape at government expense.  Available on the web, these videos would be rated by number of visitors, relative popularity of subject and the test scores of viewers at the end-of-course evaluations.  Evaluations would be conducted at real-time, centrally located, physical locations with human test monitors.

All video courses would be free.  All testing would be free.  Teachers would be remunerated by the federal government based upon a formula taking into consideration base pay, Internet popularity relative to subject and student test results.

Courses requiring labs would not be conducted on the web.  Courses with small class sizes offering student/teacher interactions that train students in the art of brainstorming, human interaction and rapport could not be outsourced to the web.  Much that is done now that suppresses the emergence of great teachers would disappear when those with excellence are also Internet celebrities.  By integrating the Internet with superb lecture skills, offering a “wisdom of crowds” evaluative procedure, with funding by the federal government to make possible the wide distribution of quality information, we can achieve a stunning increase in the number of people empowered by their education.

This would be a brand new educational institution serving high schools and colleges, funded by the federal government, with testing facilities across the country.  Integrated with brick-and-mortar institutions, this federal web education program could employ amateurs, teachers without professional qualifications, if the lectures designed by an independent amateur academic are approved by a qualified professional.  Imagine a proliferation of astonishingly entertaining lectures imparting high quality information leading to high student scores.  Imagine professional performers, comedians even, memorizing lectures written by established academicians.  They could work together to create an astonishing production and receive wages for their work.

Then consider the emergence of free lance lectures by outlaw academics and amateurs.  No testing would be available.  Yet, with the proliferation of high quality information across the web, there would be a place for unorthodox perspectives pitched to a community intimate with learning from the net.

There are few pleasures that go deeper or last longer than absorbing the wholly new, integrating it with what was already understood and experiencing an unexpected synthesis.  The federal government can encourage this process, provide jobs, build new institutions and make dramatic contributions to the economic health of this country and the world.

It comes down to encouraging great teaching with new communications technologies.

Make knowledge free.  Understanding will follow.


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