Friday, November 15, 2002

Attractive Experiences

The president of Harvard, Larry Summers dropped by to open this conference. I was particularly intriqued by one issue he brought up. He described all the benefits of watching a football game in your living room -- good seat at the 40 yard line, instant replay, comfortable couch, 72 degree temperature, clean bathroom easily available, etc. and then the unfavorable conditions in a stadium -- usually poor, distant seating, no instant reply, hard bench, freezing conditions at time, dirty bathroom at the end of a long concrete ramp. He asked, "What is the nature of an attractive experience?"

In other words, why the heck would anyone attend a football game? What attracts people to a group experience? What is it that makes a shared classroom experience better? Is there something irreducible about an in-person classroom experience? (Most of us believe there is.) What is it about distance learning that just doesn't cut it? Where do the digital and the in-person experiences compliment one another? Do they conflict? Answer in 25 words, do not fill the entire blue book, pass your exam in by 5:00pm.