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On 'The Marketplace of Ideas'
February 9, 2010 - 8:07pm

Dean Dad and I just finished Menand's new book - and I'm here to convince you to move it to the 'front burner' of your reading list!

  • (Note to our academic librarian colleagues: Dean Dad read the book as an e-book through his Kindle app on his iPod Touch. I read the book as an audiobook from Audible on my iPod. Neither of us would have been able to read the book in the format we preferred if we had wanted to borrow the book from our academic library. How many books are going unread due to a mismatch in format availability vs. format preference? How can we leverage the costless and perfect duplication of digital books to allow multiple members of our communities to read and discuss important books such as The Marketplace of Ideas?).
  • 3 Reasons to Read Menand's The Marketplace of Ideas:
  • Reason 1: If we want to change the academy we first need to understand it. The Marketplace of Ideas situates the current governance and major challenges of academic institutions within their historical context. The absence of pedagogical training in graduate school has deep roots in how our Ph.D. granting research institutions and the training of faculty members evolved. Learning technology can provide a catalyst for change, but only if we fully grasp how the current system came into being and what supports the continuation of the status quo.
  • Reason 2: Menand writes beautifully. The audiobook is read by Michael Prichard, a master of the art form.
  • Reason 3: The book is concise. 4 hours and 7 minutes in audio format. 176 pages. We should have more short books on big topics. The length of the book, combined with the elegance with which it is written, means that most of us can actually get it read. The Marketplace of Ideas would make the perfect choice for a book club discussion sponsored by your teaching and learning center.

The critique I'd offer for The Marketplace of Ideas is that Menand spends almost all of his time looking backwards instead of to the future. The opening up of higher education to new paradigms of learning and a new set of digital tools has the potential to disrupt what has been created. The open learning movement, online education, and the development of learning platforms around constructivist learning theory are but three examples. It is not clear to me that the institutions that have historically led the way in shaping the norms and structure of higher ed. will continue to do so in the future. Rather, our community colleges, online units and for-profit institutions institutions might be where we find successful innovations and new models that better meet the changing demand for higher education. Certainly the new models that the 'non-elite' institutions of higher learning are experimenting with are an important part of the story in understanding the direction of higher education.

These critiques, however, should not discourage you from reading the book. In fact, I suggest using The Marketplace of Ideas as a starting place for a faculty / academic librarian / academic technologist / administrator discussion on the past and future of your institution.


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