Sunday, 11 November 2012

The End of the University as we know it?

Several of the reviews of Stefan Collini's recent polemical book What are Universities For? suggested that it had missed a trick by ignoring the real threat to the university as we know it, which is not the British Coalition government's funding reforms for teaching but the global - and, of course, California-led - phenomenon of the virtual university. I reflected on this in the latter part of an essay in Standpoint magazine last April.

As the saying goes: we have seen the future and it works ... or does it? This long article in Guardian Online is the fullest journalistic explanation I've yet seen of what is happening. But it's striking that if you go to Khan Academy, edX, Udacity and the rest, the Humanities hardly get a look in. I completely get how Artificial Intelligence, Chemistry and How to Build a Search Engine can be delivered online, but what will the late 21st century virtual Humanities classroom look like? I remember sitting in a Cambridge lecture room as an undergraduate, with 200 others, being dazzled by the brilliance of Christopher Ricks, Jeremy Prynne or Frank Kermode. You could reproduce that online, though perhaps without the buzz of the lecturer's charismatic presence (which Ricks and Prynne had, but Kermode didn't, so maybe charisma isn't all). I remember teaching Shakespeare to a class of 40 at UCLA: a mix of lecture and discussion, with people putting their hands up. You could do this online pretty easily: 40 Skype connections, 40 little screens and a controlled click to allow the questions to be asked one at a time. But what would an Oxbridge style one on one tutorial, the historic apex of higher education, look like online?

Friday, 26 October 2012

Random Penguin

As an author published by Penguin in UK and Random House in USA, the press speculation on a merger between the two could not fail to interest me ... so I checked out the Guardian report at which point there was that perennial temptation to look down at the Reader Comments, which I did, and one of which raised a big smile: "Simply to have a company called 'Random Penguin' would be reason enough to merge, pleeeeeease do it."

Saturday, 7 April 2012

"All's Will, Ends Well"

Being Shakespeare has transferred to New York and it is fascinating to see that the critics have a completely different take on the show from that of their counterparts who have seen it across the UK and in the West End. They all love it, but they all focus on the Authorship Question: New York Times ("Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, the defense calls Simon Callow"), The New York Post ("All's Will, Ends Well"), New York Daily News, Washington Post ("makes it cool again to be smart"), Huffington Post ("restoring King Shakespeare"). The show never directly addresses it, though the programme note confronts it head-on. We didn't create the piece with the authorship dispute in mind, though the title under which it was first staged, The Man from Stratford, was a deliberate poke in the eye of the doubters. And last year's risible-if-good-to-look-at movie Anonymous, which maybe didn't bomb quite so much in the US as it did in the UK, has made it timely - "Eat your heart out, Roland Emmerich," as one of those smart Yankee reviewers puts it.