Anya Kamenetz’s most recent book,  DIY U, Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education has generated a great deal of discussion since its publication in March 2010. Below, Anya, answers questions for the Higher Education Management Group.
Special thanks to group member, Barbara Rifkind, for her help in constructing the questions for this interview. For more information about Barbara, visit her Linked In profile.

KCH: You’ve suggested that higher education will witness a further “unbundling” of its services and activities. What are the most significant implications of this change for institutions?  Instructors?  Students?
Institutions will be compelled to specialize and focus on what they do best, to pool resources and avoid duplication. No more trying to be all things to all people. The traditional roles of faculty have been under threat for awhile as underpaid adjuncts and graduate students increasingly fill classroom hours. Some faculty are seizing on new technological tools as ways to improve their teaching and also save time, while others are acting entrepreneurially to combine research with real work experience for students. Some new institutions are hiring more faculty who are teaching specialists, while others like Western Governors’ University have fully “unbundled” the role of the faculty into separate cadres of mentors, curricular specialists, and assessment specialists.
For students, the future is exciting because it means more choices, but also more responsibility. Smart students will try to assemble a learning experience that is specialized, affordable and accessible by combining online, open resources, experiential learning and conventional classroom time.
KCH: The publication of your book has spurred some heated debates in the blogosphere between more radical Edupunk/educational futurists/OER and more incremental proponents of open education.  Can you comment on this tension?
It would have been easy for me to take the role of a Nostradamus and go around saying that traditional colleges are doomed, but I think the truth is far more nuanced than that. If I can go back to Professor David Wiley’s oft-used metaphor of the Reformation: yes, it’s true, the absolute ideological tyranny of the Catholic church was absolutely overthrown, and replaced with a far more diverse, fertile, and vibrant intellectual landscape full of Protestants, non-Christians, atheists and rationalists that we know as modernity and post-modernity. On the other hand, the last time I looked, there was still a Pope, still lots of cathedrals in almost any city you visit, still approximately one billion Catholics! So I don’t think many universities are going to disappear, but the changes will still be profound.
KCH: The notion of personalized learning networks is obviously very compelling. Is there any danger in this model being inapplicable beyond the educated upper-middle class student?
I think that’s exactly who this model is meant for. The purpose of transforming higher education is by definition to reach people who are left out or ill-served by the current system. If we can build a system with more entry points at different places in the life cycle; more flexibility to earn credit for life experience; more mentorship relationships; more peer-to-peer learning opportunities; more free and open courseware resources, and an overall cost structure that breaks the cost spiral; more experiential learning; one where the quality of a degree doesn’t derive from how expensive and exclusive the institution is; and most importantly, one that is customized to each individual, that’s going to be great for the so-called non-traditional students who actually make up the vast majority.
KCH:  What has surprised you most about the response to the book?
It’s a tricky rhetorical point, but I don’t necessarily want to be seen as a proponent of all the changes I’m describing, nor am I picking a single winner among the solution set. I’m calling things like I see them. We’re at a moment of crisis and a lot of things are up in the air. It’s most important to me that people get that I care about expanding opportunity far more than what happens to kids in the Ivy League or Ivy League equivalents. I think they’ll largely take care of themselves.

8 thoughts on “DIY U: Interview with Anya Kamenetz

  1. love the provocative nature of this book from its title on. dropout rates are fueled by boredom which is fueled by lack of relevance. the mind just frags when one thinks about what’s been wasted in the way of talent. check out http://www.sandboxnetwork.org for another strategy being prototyped…thanks for this….

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  2. Change is certainly coming, and I enjoy the way Anya embodies this transformation of genre’s within the text and using the Catholic Church comparison was thoughtful and relevant. I agree that a more open source of education is beneficial to the new wave of professionals broadening their opportunities during tough economic times; just as a more specific teaching atmosphere can better serve those intent on gaining particular skills.

    Of course danger may come with overspecialization. Are we teaching our society to fish in a specific pond at a particular depth for a certain type of fish rather than just teaching the people how to fish? We saw this trend burgeon with no child left behind in the k-12 sector and as those “taught to the test” students continue on to institutions of higher learning, the question is: Will we further solidify our archaic NCLB educational model or flourish within the new-found diversity of Education 2.0?

    The answer lies more within the individual officers, administrators, and teachers on the ground level regardless of the JFAC policy makers. Those entrusted with enlightening and edifying future generations hold in their hand an empowering and difficult role for the years ahead. To quote my son’s favorite superhero movie lines, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

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  3. I’m most of the way through DIY U, and can see many of the changes that Kamenetz identifies. Also like her, I don’t necessarily think that they are all good. The question is not so much “Are these things happening?” or “Are the disruptive innovations (see Clayton Christensen) occurring?” The question is “How can higher education administrators and faculty collaborate to guide the innovations, rather than react to them as they develop?”

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