Well, the world didn’t end in 2012. What a disappointment! But at least it gives me a chance to look back at the year that was with special attention to the news items I typically cover on this blog, but might have missed at the time.
On a personal note, though, 2012 was my final year as a grad student. As many of you know, I finally completed my PhD. A heartfelt thanks to all of you who offered your congratulations. Although there’s some gratification in not being an attrition statistic, the academic job market is still so bad, I doubt my PhD puts me in a better position than I was at this time last year. So, my resolution for the New Year is to start the non-academic job search in earnest. Not only may 2012 be my last year of grad school, it may also be my last year as an aspiring academic. But I’m happy with the decision. It’s also been great to find such a vibrant online community of Alt-Ac support over the past year. It gives me hope and lets me know I’m not alone.
Another big development this year was the rise of Massive Open Online Courses. The NYT called 2012 the ‘Year of the MOOC.’ Debate ensued over whether MOOC’s are just a flash in the pan, or whether they have fundamentally revolutionized the way education is delivered, much the way Napster revolutionized the way we consume music. Although Napster is now defunct, it did forever change the music market, and big companies, like Apple, followed suit. In the case of MOOC’s, an analogous argument can be made: even though the for-profit start-ups at the forefront of the MOOC revolution may not ultimately survive, the traditional suppliers of education, as it were, will have to take notice. Arguably, the new digital delivery system is the new paradigm. Of course, these comparisons are debatable, but intriguing. I didn’t cover the MOOC phenomenon at the time the story broke because my fellow philosopher, blogger, NAC advocate, and recent podcast guest, David Storey, covered the issue so well here, here and here.
I won’t go into detail now, but I think digital distribution has a lot going for it. One of the reasons I decided to get into blogging and podcasting is to reach an audience beyond the traditional university classroom. On the basis of my page views and downloads so far, modest though they are, I’ve already reached many more people since August of this year than in my six years of sessional teaching. The power of the internet to reach an audience, and profit from it, is not lost on the founders of Coursera and Udacity. What does this mean for the traditional academic job market? Well, since MOOC’s can reach vast numbers of students with only one instructor, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us. Unless you’re an academic superstar selected to teach a MOOC, whether it’s offered by a university or a for-profit, you might be out of luck. If this model becomes the new paradigm, many PhD’s, like yours truly, may become more redundant than we already are. That is, of course, unless we innovate. I think we need to grab the bull by the horns and start taking advantage of the fact that we no longer need the traditional academic job market to monetize our knowledge. We can cut out the middleman and take our content direct to market. In the New Year, I hope to experiment with some of the these strategies myself in addition to blogging and interviewing guests on the subject. Stay tuned for that!
On a more solemn note, several notable philosophers passed away in 2012: John Hick (d. Feb 9, 2012), Ruth Barcan Marcus (d. Feb 19, 2012), J.J.C. Smart (d. Oct 6, 2012), and Paul Kurtz (d. Oct 20, 2012). Also noteworthy is the passing of Alan Saunders (d. June 15, 2012), a broadcaster and host of The Philosopher’s Zone on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Mr. Saunders pioneered philosophy on the radio and through podcasting. I think it’s safe to say that everybody who podcasts about philosophy looked to Mr. Saunders as an example. Fortunately, his legacy lives on through the podcast archive, and the show will continue in his absence with a new season in 2013.
That’s pretty much the year that was. A very happy New Year to all readers! See you all in 2013.