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Our View: What's an education?

Everyone knows that the technology revolution is or soon will be shaking some of our most cherished assumptions to the core. Consider, for example, why do people go to college? To get an education, right? But the tech revolution forces us to ask:...

Everyone knows that the technology revolution is or soon will be shaking some of our most cherished assumptions to the core. Consider, for example, why do people go to college? To get an education, right? But the tech revolution forces us to ask: What is an education? And what is a college?
A mini-flap is brewing at the University of Minnesota over whether or not students should be allowed to post their class notes on line and sell them to others. The Twin Cities Assembly Committee approved a policy last month prohibiting students from distributing lecture notes for commercial purposes without prior consent from professors.
Through the ages, formal education has been dispensed mostly through the classroom model. Information was so limited and its dispersal so difficult, that that was the only economical way to do it.
In a similar way, people "went" to college because that was the only way that the information they wanted could be obtained.
Today, because of technology, information can be dispersed easily and cheaply and some people can go to college without leaving their house. The selling of class notes on-line is a natural outgrowth of that.
Reaction has been strong from both sides once the Twin Cities Assembly made its decision. One side is defending the rights of professors to their material, and the offer is defending the constitutional freedom of speech.
It seems to us that professors should be compensated for their research -- under existing copyright laws -- but they need to legally copyright their material.
An academic edict should not count for much in this instance; with all the competition and information out there, it would be self-defeating for an institution to make the dispersal of knowledge more difficult.
Sellers of class notes then will either pay the professors whatever the going rate is or will reformat the service they provide to be something other than class notes.
The question of whether or not the class notes are accurate or not should really be a non-issue from the school's point of view. People buy information all the time, and over the years, sellers develop a reputation for reliability and readability or lack thereof. Let the buyer beware.
With the flood of information available, professors need to recognize that the old way of dispersing information is no longer sacred. Students need to understand that the knowledge accumulated by professors has a price.
The idea of "going" to college is changing in the physical sense, and the shape and form of higher education in the future is still unknown.The ultimate determination, however, will be made by the job market.
Whether a person attends college by sitting at home looking at a computer, or by going to class in the traditional sense, may make a difference economically.
In the meantime, the flap over class notes at the University of Minnesota is only one of the first shots to be fired in the ongoing technological revolution. Luckily, it can and should be resolved using existing copyright law. Given the revolution, all other issues involving class notes are irrelevant.

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