The Practical University

In the New York Times Opinion Pages on 4 April 2013, I came across “The Practical University,” an op-ed piece by David Brooks.  He opens the column with an interesting assertion:

The best part of the rise of online education is that it forces us to ask: What is a university for?

He then goes on to talk about two types of knowledge students currently acquire (in varying degrees) at universities:  technical knowledge and practical knowledge.  Brooks describes the two types like this:

  • Technical knowledge is the sort of knowledge you need to understand a task — the statistical knowledge you need to understand what market researchers do, the biological knowledge you need to grasp the basics of what nurses do.”
  • Practical knowledge is not about what you do, but how you do it. It is the wisdom a great chef possesses that cannot be found in recipe books. Practical knowledge is not the sort of knowledge that can be taught and memorized; it can only be imparted and absorbed. It is not reducible to rules; it only exists in practice.

As you might imagine, Brooks’ column generated a lot of discussion on the New York Times site, so I thought it would make for an interesting “discussion prompt” in the Commission.  If you have comments on the role of online education, either in the classroom and / or in advising, Brooks’ differentiation of technical and practical knowledge and / or the assertions he makes in his column regarding the role of online education in universities, I invite you to share them in the comments or on the Commission listserve.  If you haven’t yet subscribed to the Commission list, you’ll find directions for doing so here.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: