The ineffable Vanessa Blaylock does it again with a fascinating new project for her LEA sim beginning 1 January. She has announced the creation of Medici University, a virtual campus where you can go and be a teacher or a student, takes classes, and even earn a degree. All for free! Yayz!.. So what classes are they offering? Depends on what people want to teach. What are the requirements for a degree? You decide. Then if you finish your own program they give you your degree (explicitly non-accredited by anyone). This is a great experiment that demonstrates that bricks and mortar universities will likely have a harder and harder time competing with rapidly deploying online alternatives.
Interestingly, this idea is remarkably similar to the rl program that I was in for my undergraduate degree. I went to New College in Sarasota, Florida. Begun in the 60s, it was and is a radical approach to learning that puts responsibility on the student. The program has a first rate reputation. I applied to 8 graduate schools and was accepted to all of them. (My ultimate decision to go to University of Kentucky was based in part on their offer of a teaching assistantship with tuition paid and a small stipend.). In my case, I had been out of school for a few years and I didn’t want to start over with a traditional program. At New College I was able to work towards a BA in Music History in 3 years. The program required the completion of “contracts.” These were normally accomplished by taking classes, but could, for example, include private instruction, an internship or some other thing. They had 10-week terms with a 5-week interim during which it was expected that you would do independent study or a travel experience of some kind.
The key to the New College program was that I could design my own degree. There were no pre-defined requirements for my degree and there were no grades. Every class or activity had a personal written evaluation.
They didn’t have a formal music program, but I was able to take music history and theory classes almost to the exclusion of all else. Some of my advanced Theory classes consisted of “tutorials” with the professor and only one or two students. I did take German for a year and a couple of off-topic classes like “Physics for Humanities Majors” and and a course on the Crusades. Otherwise is was serious concentration on music studies. I did several independent study courses relating to history and construction of musical instruments. And there was a senior thesis requirement for which I wrote an extensive research paper.
This kind of education can be life-changing for a focused and motivated student. It’s important to work closely with an advisor to assure that you stay on track. Younger students at New College who arrived directly from a structured high school were often disoriented when they had to sit and define their degree programs.
I’ll be interested to watch Vanessa’s project unfold. I will try to participate if I can, but I may be too busy with my own LEA sim and my fellowship in Australia.