Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Virtual Reality Could Reduce Academic Elitism

I see a BusinessWeek article about virtual workplaces in the classroom. The concept is that business school students are now able to try their hand at solving real-world business problems in a virtual reality context. Eventually, someone may decide to permit students from multiple business schools to address the same problems at the same time. Suddenly, it would not matter whether you were attending business school at Harvard or at some lowly state university: you would have equal access and equal opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities. What can be done at business school can be done elsewhere. It should be possible for political science students to address real-world political problems. And what can be done in a virtual context can also be done in a real context. Those business problems and political problems need not be something that a professor dreams up. They can be posted by real people, growing rice in Southeast Asia or handling a civil war in Africa. It is not that students at Harvard or other elite universities would not continue to shine. I'm sure they would. Some of them, anyway. Some surely would not. The real point is that those who never made it to Harvard -- who, ultimately, may not be enrolled in any university at all -- may have an opportunity not merely to earn brownie points, but actually to build their resumes by racking up a string of suggested solutions, some of which might be implemented, achieve success, and receive kudos from the grateful poser of the original problem.