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Category archive: Distance learning

Monday July 14 2008

Carlin Romano, who teaches philosophy and media theory at the University of Pennsylvania, writes about honorary degrees, in The Chronicle Review.  He begings his piece by arguing that honorary degrees do nothing for universities.  He quotes Jacques Barzun, who says: “the honorary degree as now commonly dealt out has lost its point”, and: “The Chairman of the Board of General Aphrodisiacs may be all that is said of him in the citation, but it is not a judgment on which the university should set its seal.” Universities should stick to rewarding measurable academic excellence.  MIT and Harvard eke out their existences without awarding any such degrees.  Others should follow their example, says Romano.

But then he gets to the matter of Robert Mugabe.


Yet for all this history and perspective, indicating that honorary degrees and their nullifications amount to tempests in teapots, the peculiar biography of Robert Mugabe makes the matter more complicated. Recent journalistic attention to Zimbabwe’s tragedies, welcome as it is, has provided little context about the man causing them. For that, we’re fortunate to have three incisive books on him published in the last decade: Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe, by Martin Meredith (Public Affairs, 2002); Degrees in Violence: Robert Mugabe and the Struggle for Power in Zimbabwe, by David Blair (Continuum, 2002); and Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence, by Stephen Chan (University of Michigan Press, 2003).

All paint a portrait of Mugabe that may surprise non-Africa hands ignorant of his prepresidential life. Born in the Jesuit mission station of Kutama on February 21, 1924, the third of six children in a family abandoned by his father (a dyspeptic carpenter who moved 300 miles away and took another wife), young Mugabe could not have been more bookish as he rose to become a teacher.

“All accounts describe him in the same words,” writes Blair, “diligent, quiet, studious, introverted.” Mugabe shunned smoking and drinking alcohol and “excelled academically” at every institution he attended, including South Africa’s University of Fort Hare, the hotbed of African nationalism from which Nelson Mandela had been expelled earlier. During Mugabe’s 11 years of imprisonment, from 1963 to 1974, under Zimbabwe’s white-ruled predecessor state of Rhodesia, the future president enrolled in University of London correspondence courses and earned four degrees — a master’s degree in economics, a bachelor’s degree in administration, and two law degrees — to go with the three bachelor’s degrees he already possessed, in economics, education, and history and literature.

Meredith writes of how Mugabe in prison “resumed his studies with fierce dedication, his books piled on both sides of his bed.” The prisoner’s late wife, Sally Hayfron, then living in London, copied out whole volumes by hand and posted them as letters to her husband. When Mugabe finally won release from prison, in November 1974, he held seven academic degrees.

So even now, after more than three decades in which the former Marxist revolutionary leader — seen as conciliatory toward opponents at Zimbabwe’s independence — has evolved into a murderous autocrat, Mugabe’s lust for academic credibility may endure. In the paranoid recesses of Mugabe’s octogenarian brain, stripping him of degrees may exact a toll few can imagine.

In which case, it’s probably time for Michigan State University, which doled out an honorary doctorate to Mugabe in 1990, to step up. And what about those seven earned degrees? Can a university revoke degrees earned in a correspondence course? How? By sending Mugabe a letter? Why not leave him only the eighth academic laurel he famously boasts of — “a degree in violence”?

Now, after Zimbabwe’s latest parody of democracy, the man once called “Satan’s apostle” by his also-ruthless white predecessor stands as the re-elected president of Zimbabwe. If things keep going as they’re going, however, Mugabe can forget about retiring to one of those handsomely endowed chairs at a Florida university, the sort that draw Oxford dons seeking to up their pay in a sunny place.

He simply won’t have the credentials.

A degree in education.  How about that?

The idea of stripping Mugabe of his various degrees, honorary and real, was causing much mockery on Mock The Week, when I watched the latest manifestation of it a few days ago, as did England refusing to play cricket against Zimbabwe next year.  But it would appear that even if taking his degrees away won’t now do anything to stop Mugabe, this might cause him some small degree (so to speak) of hurt.

More Mugabe honorary degree complaint here.

Friday July 11 2008

Online education is on the up, because of the price of gas:

“All across the country, community colleges and universities are getting requests for online programs specifically with students mentioning the price of gas,” says Ray Schroeder, director of the office of technology-enhanced learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “I just filled up the tank of my little Hyundai, and it was $50 for the first time ever—I think it really is affecting people.”

Some experts say that the rising interest in online programs could lead more colleges to expand their offerings, or experiment with “blended” courses that mix in-person and online meetings.

Via Greg Mankiw.

Sunday March 30 2008

One of the oddities of one of my favourite blogs, engadget, is that it seems to be almost entirely paid for by the University of Phoenix.

I’m talking about this advert:


That’s the version of it that appears at the bottom of the page.  There’s another, nearly square, which crops up regularly between postings.  I’ve copied it to here because I like pictures, especially wide and shallow ones like this that don’t take up too much vertical blog space, and because some dumbos may think that they are paying me too, and that this blog is therefore doing very well.

Click on it and you get to here, where it says this:

A leader in online learning, University of Phoenix makes quality higher education highly accessible. Whether you’re seeking an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, we can help you reach your goal while you work-and much sooner than you might expect.

In fact, University of Phoenix has helped thousands of students from over 130 countries achieve the higher education they need to achieve higher success. We can help you too.

These relentless adverts suggest to me that some money is being made here, with distance learning, which I think is a positive trend, because for many it’s either distance learning or no learning at all.

But, I seem to recall the guy who runs this saying that there was some government process going on which encouraged this kind of thing being done by “proper” universities (i.e. government recognised) and discouraged a true free market.  I seem further to recall that the key word here is “accreditation”.  But that’s only vaguely remembered and could be all wrong.

Wednesday February 13 2008

I’m just back from an posh type LA Dinner, at posh restaurant Shepherds (a convenient short walk from where I live) addressed by John Kersey, speaking about higher education and what he is doing about it.  See also this posting

JK will get more mentions here in the weeks and months to come.  For now, I just want to pass on something that Matthew Elliott of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said, which is that the TaxPayers’ Alliance are about to publish something saying that all university lecture halls ought to have webcams at the back of them, which we could all watch over the internet.  This would serve two purposes.  First, it would show the taxpayers, who are after all paying for most of this stuff, what they were getting, or not getting, for their money.  Second, it would reveal the wicked leftism of it all.  I would add that putting webcams in lecture halls might cause the quality of the lecturing to go up and the behaviour and attendance records of the students to improve.  Also, you never know, us taxpayers might learn things.

Interesting.  Kind of a different slant on this.  No doubt the most embarrassing clips would immediately show up on YouTube.

Friday January 04 2008

I have long been a fan of classical violinist Pinchas Zukerman, ever since the days of his regular collaborations with the young Barenboim and the alas eternally young Jacqueline du Pré.  He remains a formidable and formidably busy musician, who now also teaches a lot.  Nevertheless, when glancing through this Zukerman bio, linked to recently by Jessica Duchen, I didn’t expect to encounter this:

In addition to his position with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Mr. Zukerman chairs the Pinchas Zukerman Performance Program at the Manhattan School of Music. To maintain close relationships with his students while fulfilling the travel demands of his concert engagements, Mr. Zukerman has pioneered the use of distance-learning technology in the arts. Through the use of the school’s videoconferencing system, his students are able to receive regular string instruction.

imageHere is the best link I was able quickly to find concerning how Zukerman does this.  Interestingly, he was already deep into video-conference for music teaching over a decade ago

I found the picture I have used here, of Zukerman distance teaching in 2002, by scrolling down here.  (He’s the one on the telly.)

See also this, by another violinist who more recently tried doing the same thing, and was very enthusiastic about it.