“There’s a Tsunami coming,” he famously told the New Yorker magazine in 2012. That presumably explained his efforts to keep his university at the forefront of the education technology revolution. After all, it is better to ride the wave than to be submerged by it. Yet the whole metaphor – even the construction of the sentence by which Hennessy presents it – paints him as a passive actor. He is not leading a revolution, but following a movement that would occur whether Stanford involved itself with education technology or not.
Elsewhere, Hennessy spoke frankly about the effects of this “tsunami” on universities in general and the professoriate in particular. At a 2012 forum on “Higher Education in the Digital Age,” Hennessy declared that the public university model is untenable. Therefore, “You just have to blow up the system.” More importantly, he told the gathering that “faculties will shrink as technologies grow.”
Now that Hennessy is retiring, it appears that he’s starting to change his tune. This is from a new interview with the MIT Technology Review:
“The truth is, looking at a talking video for an hour is absolutely no more motivating—perhaps even less motivating—than sitting in a large lecture hall for an hour.”
Then there’s this nugget from later in the interview:
“Motivation and personal contact are critical issues. I just don’t think that beaming a MOOC into somebody’s bedroom is going to create the kind of engaging experience they’re going to need to succeed in school.”
Yes, you can still read signs of the inevitable “technology will improve” argument throughout that interview, but imagine what would have happened had we faculty all gotten out of the way of that tsunami way back in 2012. Our students would now be stuck with a lousy product for the foreseeable future.