A fourth-year student named Jacob Ericson recently posted on the Digital Curation Services blog about the responsibilities he has been given as a student worker, helping to digitize valuable and fragile holdings from Special Collections. “Many people find it astonishing that the University would hire students with little to no previous library and archival experience to work with the delicate rare materials housed in the Special Collections Library,” he writes.
He goes on to say that being given real responsibility has been an important part of his U.Va. experience, providing “some of the most important life skills I have attained while at the University of Virginia.”
(As an aside, as a former UTS bus driver, I took slight offense to Ericson’s contention that his job was somehow more weighty than those of other student workers, citing specifically “library assistants, tour guides, bus drivers, and lifeguards.” Now, Jake, if you mess up a priceless old book while digitizing it, that’s certainly a bad thing. But if you mess up driving a UTS bus, lives may be at stake, not to mention equipment worth six figures. But I digress.)
This all goes to a point: At U.Va., students are entrusted with real responsibility, whether it’s driving passenger buses, digitizing priceless treasures, working in research labs or deciding how best to administer the Honor System. Certainly, a lot of this happens at other schools, but I happen to think that it happens a lot more at U.Va., where it is described in a cherished phrase that gets bandied about a lot: “student self-governance.”
My question: Does any of that happen when you take a MOOC?
There are those who predict that online education will eventually supplant bricks and mortar. But if higher education is reduced to an online transaction between content providers and unseen students lounging in their pajamas around the globe, something valuable will have been lost.
There is undoubtedly a place and a role for MOOCs, but I hope there will always be a place for a residential, all-around college experience, too.
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