Current Issue

Nov.3, 2010

Vol. 111, No. 3

A ‘service’ to students

In response to: Website offers rants, advice, commiseration

Published on November3, 2010

In her On the Campus column (Sept. 22), Angela Wu ’12 quotes the founder of the website PrincetonFML remarking quite innocently: “Whenever I look over at someone’s laptop while in class and see that they’re browsing PrincetonFML, it is very, very gratifying, because it lets me know that I am helping to provide the student body with a service they actually use.”

The instructor standing in front of the class may not find this imagery quite so gratifying, nor will the parents who labor under the erroneous impression that the offspring whose tuition they pay or help pay might actually learn something while “in class,” instead of sharing their innermost feelings on PrincetonFML, wondrous as those feelings may be.

On the other hand, it certainly is very, very gratifying to a professor that the students who browse PrincetonFML in class do at least have the courtesy of showing up there. Quite a few students seem to have trouble managing even that much, preferring to browse in their rooms.

Perhaps this student is signaling that the traditional model of pedagogy practiced in U.S. higher education is increasingly wasteful and obsolete. Before long, it may be replaced by what Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has called a “disruptive technology.” My hunch is that it will come from well-run, for-profit institutions that will provide the economy with competent adults using far less wasteful pedagogy and, in the process, providing the financially hard-pressed American middle class with some relief from the ever-rising cost of higher education.

Uwe Reinhardt
Professor, economics and public affairs
Woodrow Wilson School

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