A tidbit for US readers … OK, everyone

I admit I haven’t read it yet (it was only published on 7 May, after all), but Jeffrey Selingo’s book College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students is set to inspire the MOOC junkies and challenge the traditionalists. Further, this post is playing the dual role of also highlighting the great role (in this writer’s humble opinion) that Amazon plays in checking out new publications, as that is from where my information is sourced.

I chanced upon it while perusing  Arts and Letters Daily and saw the ad for the book. The title caught my eye, so somewhat unusually I clicked it and was taken to its Amazon page, wherein I learned that this new book can be obtained for a mere $15.60 (books are very expensive in Australia).

Just in case you’re wondering, this is not a quote from the book

On first glance, College (Un)bound is a beauty – a deft critical analysis of the recent history of US universities, with firm predictions for the future and the positive role that technology will play. The description entices us with:

“Selingo not only turns a critical eye to the current state of affairs in higher education, but he also predicts how technology will transform it for the better. Free massive online open courses (MOOCs) and hybrid classes, adaptive learning software, and the unbundling of traditional degree credits will increase access to high quality education regardless of budget or location and tailor lesson plans to individual needs. One thing is certain—the Class of 2020 will have a radically different college experience than their parents.”

And worthy suitors agree, given the typical quotes from early appraisals:

“Jeffrey Selingo combines solid data with compelling anecdotes to produce a richly textured account of the transformations taking place in American higher education today. By illustrating larger trends with stories about their impact on individual students and families, his book offers precisely the kind of student-centered approach that he is advocating.” —Alison Byerly, president-elect, Lafayette College

“Once in a generation, a book forces us to reconsider the fundamentals of higher education—and College (Un)bound is that book for the Wireless Generation.” —David L. Marcus, author of Acceptance

Whew! Now let’s take a deep breath and slow down a little. And please, can we henceforth ban the phrase ‘once in a generation, …’?

One nice thing with Amazon (not just Amazon, of course) is that you can read some sample pages. This not only helps to get a sense of content, but also lets you know whether you like the author’s writing style. We are all familiar with much-admired books that we just don’t warm to, because we struggle with the writing (I can’t get into Peter Carey – the writing doesn’t flow for me). For what it’s worth, Selingo seems to write well.

Then there are the ‘Most Helpful Customer Reviews’. And yes indeed, they are usually helpful. I also prefer the customers who use their real name. There are three for College (Un)bound, and the first is from Monica J. Kern: ‘A (perhaps unrealistically) rosy view of the future of higher education’. She is solid and sensible, praising where due and explaining that the author ‘does an excellent job of capturing the changing face of higher education. In particular, the first section of his book (“How We Got Here”) is an excellent if disturbing summary of where higher education has gone wrong in recent decades.’ However, she rightly calls into question the claim by Selingo that ‘”every new study of online learning” arrives at essentially the same conclusion that students perform better in online courses that traditional courses.’ At my age it’s quite ironic to see such unsubstantiated claims, when a few decades back we were constantly on the defensive about the credibility of distance education, online learning’s precursor. And Monica has further gripes (e.g. ‘enthusiastic endorsement of the online revolution without acknowledging … weaknesses’) that you can appraise for yourself.

The second customer review is reasonably complimentary, but it’s the third one that really gets stuck in. It’s from Dienne (whoever that is!) and the critique is pretty savage. Claimed weaknesses are Selingo’s unfocused presentation of arguments, captivation by solutions involving technology, confusion of technology as a tool and technology as content, and the spurious claim that ‘in the information age, professors are no longer experts in their field’. There’s more – about 1500 words of it – and like the other two, is required reading to provide balance to the syrupy publicity blurb.

That’s what makes the Amazon approach helpful – it’s included, even if some of it may put buyers off.

photo credit: Travelin’ Librarian via photopin cc
photo credit: Eduardo Loureiro via photopin cc

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