16 Jun Episode 6: Is Online Education Here to Stay?
The pandemic has forced a giant-scale experiment in online education, and by many accounts it is going very poorly. From first graders to college students, everyone seems to be frustrated at having to take the classroom experience to a crowded space in the kitchen, and many are clamouring to get back to the in-school experience. But will it ever happen? After all, the experiment was a poorly planned one, and perhaps should not be seen as the benchmark of what online education, something that was being rolled-out in force pre-pandemic, is likely to look like over the long term.
Our guest on this episode is economist Robert Frank, who is a professor at Cornell University. He argues that when it comes to higher education, economic forces are too powerful for virtual instruction to go away after the pandemic. After all, would it not be better to see a video of a superstar instructor give a lecture than sit in a classroom and hear a mediocre one present the same material? In-class seminars could then be presented by teaching assistants who could answer questions and facilitate discussion. That has implications for students of course, but it has implications for professors as well. What if you are not a superstar presenter? Are colleges and universities supposed to hire based on presentation skills rather than research skills? What happens to pay scales and promotions and the norm of doing things? The answers may be complicated ones, but it seems that the future of work for the education sector will be one of upheaval and finding new roles, to the benefit of some and the detriment of others.
Robert H. Frank is the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos. For more than a decade, his “Economic View” column appeared monthly in The New York Times. He received his BS in mathematics from Georgia Tech, and then taught math and science for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Nepal. He holds an MA in statistics and a PhD in economics, both from the University of California at Berkeley. His papers have appeared in the American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, and other leading professional journals.
His books have been translated into 23 languages, including Choosing the Right Pond, Passions Within Reason, Microeconomics and Behavior, Principles of Economics (with Ben Bernanke), Luxury Fever, What Price the Moral High Ground?, Falling Behind, The Economic Naturalist, The Darwin Economy, and Success and Luck. The Winner-Take-All Society, co-authored with Philip Cook, received a Critic’s Choice Award, was named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times, and was included in Business Week’s list of the ten best books of 1995. Frank is a co-recipient of the 2004 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. He was awarded the Johnson School’s Stephen Russell Distinguished teaching award in 2004, 2010, and 2012, and its Apple Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005.