If a college student today stepped into a time machine and traveled back to Plato’s Academy of ancient Athens, she would recognize quite a bit. Sure, it might take some time to master ancient Greek and the use of stylus on wax, but she would eventually settle into a familiar academic routine. Senior scholars across a range of subjects like astronomy and political theory would lecture, pose questions, and press answers to a small group of attendants. Junior attendants would listen, answer, and defend responses.
That a class in 2011 resembles a lecture from 2,300 years ago suggests that two millennia of technological upheaval have only brushed the world of academics. Some professors use PowerPoint, and many schools manage their classes with online software. But even these changes don’t fully embrace the potential of Web, mobile, and interactive technology.
“The present resistance to innovation [in education] is breathtaking,” Joel Klein writes in The Atlantic this month. The former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education was writing about public high schools, but he might as well have been talking about universities. Despite college costs rising faster in college than any institution in the country including health care, we have the technology to disrupt education, turn brick and mortar lecture halls into global class