Saturday, January 24, 2015

On Self-Education Through the Internet

If we are to accept the wisdom of Henry Kett, whose 1814 publication The flowers of wit, or a choice collection of bon mots included the observation "that every man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client," what are we to make of Zach Sims? According to Joe Miller, reporting from Davos for BBC News, Sims dropped out of Columbia before completing his degree and, as a result, may hold no academic credentials higher than a high school diploma. Nevertheless, the attendees of the World Economic Forum appear to be in his thrall for the success of his creation Codeacademy. This is a three-year-old Web site that enables visitors to learn six popular languages at no charge. On the basis of the analytics for that site, Sims can apparently claim that he has 26 million students.

Personally, I think that this says more about the Davos attendees than it does about Sims ingenuity. In parallel to Kett's insight, one of my former students (best left unnamed) once declared, "Any idiot can program a computer … and many of them do." It would be fairer to call Codeacademy a valuable resource for skill acquisition, rather than a site for education. Yet it seems as if the rich and mighty at Davos are more inclined to see Sims and his approach as a harbinger for a new age of education. In this case, however, it is neither Sims nor anyone using his site who is the greater fool. The greatest fools are those gullible enough to pass off what Codeacademy does as education. However, since they have been immune to any number of other reality checks, I doubt that they will see the light in this situation.

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