After many years of taking part in discussions about technology in education, I decided to offer my views in a satirical lecture, "Introducing the Automatic Professor Machine." It first appeared at a conference on the future of educational technologies at Pennsylvania State University in the late 1990s. Among those in the audience were Ivan Illich and Neal Postman. When I announced that, "I've recently had a change of heart about these matters," an audible "gasp!" went up from the crowd. Then I introduced my alter ego, Mr. L.C. Winner, CEO of the Educational Smart Hardware Alma Mater corporation, who proceeded to roll out his version of the fashionable arguments, brands and slogans of the period, flimflam still very much in vogue today. Later I made a somewhat shortened video version of the lecture, but its "RM" encoding made it difficult to distribute. Newly reformatted, it's now available in two parts on YouTube. Enjoy!
While traveling in China recently, I happened upon my old buddy and alter ego, L.C. Winner, CEO of EDUSHAM -- Educational Smart Hardware Alma Mater, Inc. There he was in the middle of Pudong Airport, fresh from a trade show in Shanghai, admiring the new, improved model of his innovative APM – the Automatic Professor Machine.
“How wonderful to see you, L.C.!” I said as we wandered off to the nearby food court. “How’s the online education business going?”
“Well, the market’s really jumping over here,” he replied. “We’ve installed the APM in thousands of locations all over China. This is an education hungry country with a young, booming consumer economy. Eager students and anxious parents are snapping up our lectures, courses, pre-written papers, and digital cram sessions faster than we can crank them out at our Foxconn Chengdu factory. We estimate that EDUSHAM will grow 1,000% this year alone.”
“Wow!,” I exclaimed. “Does this mean you’ve left the U.S.A. completely, that you’re outsourcing your whole product line to the Far East?’
“Not completely,” he mused. “There is still a big market for digital knowledge goods and services in America. And we’re heartened by signs that some old obnoxious barriers to profitability – teachers unions, public school systems, committed career teachers, and outmoded notions of ‘quality education’ – are under attack by concerned Republicans throughout the nation, in Wisconsin for example. But you have to recognize that, for now at least, the distinctive blend of centralized political control and market frenzy that you find in China right now offers the most lucrative horizons. I expect that the U.S. will get there eventually as old fashion educational institutions are foreclosed and their bankrupt tenants evicted. But for now, this is the place to be.”
At that point I noticed that the “Departures” board had flashed the gate for my flight back home. “Nice talking with you, L.C. Keep in touch.”
“I will. Have a nice trip!” he shouted as he walked back to his brightly lit knowledge robot. “Hey, you know EDUSHAM has a great new slogan. Want to hear it?”
“Sure,” I replied, moving toward the security check.
“Virtual Students of the Future: There’s One Born Every Minute!”
"Do you like it?"
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Update: My irreverent satire from 2001, "Introducing The Automatic Professor Machine," unavailable for many years, has been remastered and is now available in two parts on YouTube. I'll post direct links before too long.