I have started this project not so much to express strong opinions on current events, or to create a virtual identity or soapbox from which to shout (as many very good blogs do), but instead to develop some ideas that have become more important to me during the past few years. For the first 10 years or so of my career in distance and online education it seemed enough to move the agenda forward, support universities engaging in online learning, and promote particular approaches to online learning.
During the past few years though, I have been thinking increasingly about what is special to me about the university and what are its enduring contributions to society that distinguish it from other types of organizations. Although there are hundreds of relevant topics for consideration ranging from access, openness, the economics of higher education, and the debate about the nature of private and public good, I have found myself returning to what I think is a unifying notion about the university. It strikes me that the university is a very special type of culture forming organization. An organization whose “product” is integrated so deeply into the intellect of its participants that its effects and affect frequently go unrecognized and under appreciated. And its value is frequently confused with the symbol of its attainment – the diploma, certificate, badge, or credit.
Some of my thinking has been catalyzed after having recently reread Henry Rosovsky’s, The University, an Owners Manual, and Newman’s nine discourses in The Idea of a University. Taken together, these readings helped me gaze above the most recent announcement of who is doing a MOOC, what Moody’s is telling us about the financial future of the University, which education spinoff captured venture capital, and the most recent twist or turn coming from the US Department of Education. The broader writing about liberal education provided for me pause to think more clearly about the nature of the University, how great ones run, and why they are so important. Which brings me to the title of this blog, Latent Pattern Transmission.
Although a bit awkward, I think the phrase captures the central idea of education, fundamentally as a particular way of reproducing values and behaviors across generations and among contemporaries through the sharing of knowledge and ideas. The distinction between the exchange of knowledge as a thing and the development of reproducible values is why colleges and universities look and behave differently than other types of organizations. Universities are designed to create conditions for the enduring production and reproduction of culture in which students become teachers who become students through their behavior, the things they create, and the relationships they form, while other types of organizations are designed principally to sell knowledge and certifications as commodities.
It is my hope to use this blog as a way to develop some ideas about the notion of latent pattern transmission and whenever possible relate it to distance and online education. I am guessing that many of the posts will miss the mark and ideas will fall flat, but I expect that over time some pattern will emerge. In addition, most of the articles and quotes that I may use to introduce ideas and questions or to illustrate points will, from time to time, be a bit stale – after all, this is not intended to be a newspaper. In fact, it is my hope that this effort takes the shape of a mosaic, and I am happy to have help collecting, placing, and interpreting the bits and bobs.