Transnational Education
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Thoughts, research, current events, and instructional models -- for accredited degree programs delivered internationally

Friday, November 14, 2003

A World of Change (Part 3): Commodities, Quality, and the Human Element

One technical writer in the recent debate about offshoring, quality, and job transition stated that the change of jobs from being a specialty to a commodity labor was not new. "Commoditization is a fact of business and life. Its the reason DVD players cost $50.00 now instead of $1000 as they did in 1996. Its also the reason why tech writers get $30 now an hour instead of the $65 they got in 1998. Everything, including labor, gets commoditized and becomes less-expensive per unit. "

I think I would agree with that statement in terms of education, with a few exceptions. Here are some:

1 - Textbooks: It seems the cost of texts has only increased over time.
2 - Tuition and Fees: If competition brings down prices, it hasn't done that in higher ed.
3 - Multimedia: Though media duplication has become very inexpensive, the cost of producing and developing education multimedia is still very high. What's the rumored quote that is always tossed around $40,000 for every 1 hour of multimedia training. That has stayed about the same for several years, despite increases in software, hardware, and drops in duplication costs.

One writer was not convinced that commoditization is such a good thing, saying "when you remove the humanity from the product, you get a commodity and the quality goes down."

Other writers argued that commoditizing does not always mean lowering the standard of quality. In some cases, it may improve the standard.

" are about as "commoditized" as you can get--yet their quality in terms of durability and safety is far, far above what it was only a decade or so ago. Good kitchen knives and cookware--which until recently was beyond the reach of those with average income, ditto. Flashlight batteries, computers and computer components...
True, many things suffer from commoditization. We have not yet found a way to "de-humanize" writing (thank God!) or the creation of art..."

And lastly, "I believe that what many folks are truly upset about is not so much the commoditization that has allowed an increase in the standard of living for millions, but the *depersonalization* that so often accompanies it."

Is there a balance in all this? How far should humans be pushed out of education, and where do we cross the line where de-humanizing or depersonalizing something takes away more than it benefits?

posted by Mark at 8:46 AM | Link | Comments

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Tom Nickel
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Guangzhou, PRC
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