Recently I was asked why a parent should pay to send a child to my current university when there are so many inexpensive degrees now available online. I repeated the standard, albeit completely honest, reaction among academics at traditional brick-and-mortar institutions: If you want to buy a degree, go to University of Phoenix. If you want an education, go to a real college. Online education excels at offering the cheapest, easiest route to a degree. But that's it. Cheap and easy are the positives. The downside is learning next to nothing. If you simply need a degree to get a promotion from G-8 to G-11 at the Department of Such-and-Such, then online courses are ideal for you. If you want to learn stuff, they're not. It has its place, but it's important to be realistic about what the process does and does not do well.

Back in 2007, Boeing was the subject of many glowing tributes among business journalists and other ooze-secreting MBA types for their revolutionary approach to building the 787 Dreamliner. After decades of the aircraft industry building and re-building the same basic designs in different sizes, the 787 was going to be an evolutionary leap. It would use plastics and carbon fiber in place of metal, electronics in place of hydraulics, and other weight/space saving technologies. Another novel aspect of its design was that Boeing was essentially going to crowdsource it and build it "efficiently" (i.e., on the cheap). It cut development costs with H-1B visas, cut production costs with outsourcing, and allowed its contractors to freely subcontract to further reduce costs. The 787 is truly the Plane Globalization Built.

Rest assured that the numerous emergency landings and the worldwide grounding of the aircraft that have been delivered (several years late) is unrelated.

Thankfully the internet's memory is as long as mine, and here you can enjoy an example of the kind of praise heaped on the company for the innovation of farming out the job of building the components of an exceptionally complex machine to – wait for it – over 900 contractors and subcontractors when all was said and done.

Boeing says 70% of the 787 has been outsourced; rival Airbus is relying on subcontractors for about 50% of its A350 plane, now in development. "This farming-out of the airplane's construction is revolutionary," says Richard Aboulafia, vice president at Teal Group, an aerospace consulting firm.

Revolutionary! Contracting was done with American, Korean, Japanese, French, Italian, German, and Australian companies among others, and each of these subcontracted the actual labor to the usual suspects – Eastern Europe, China, Mexico, South America, and the like.

Unfortunately Boeing is starting to realize that outsourcing and cheap labor are good at making really inexpensive disposable goods. Consumer electronics. Clothes. Shoes. Toys. It's not so good at making the most complex machines ever devised by mankind, which happen to have a very low tolerance for system failures. If your Reeboks fall apart or your Blu-Ray player craps out, you're probably going to be irritated. If the electrical subsystems on an aircraft stop working, you're probably going to be dead. Yes, aircraft like this have redundant systems and not every failure results in a catastrophe. But we're not talking about a new iPhone here, where the attitude in development can be, "Just release it and we'll shake out all the bugs in the first year."

The issues with this airplane should not be overblown, but they should not be interpreted solely as problems with one product from one company. This is an important example of the limited benefits of outsourcing and other "globalization" practices. As I've said many times before, it makes things cheaper. That's what it does. That's all it does. It does not make things better, safer, or even necessarily faster. It's merely a way to pay fewer people in high-wage countries as a means of maximizing profits. The idea that Boeing would assemble a bunch of components made by hundreds of different contractors into the most technologically advanced airliner in the world shows how little value is given to quality and safety in comparison to penny-pinching.

45 thoughts on “PIECEMEAL”

  • Apparently, all of my Revell model airplanes were decades ahead of their time. Who knew? Of course, the entire fleet was permanently grounded pending development of efficient tiny tiny jet engines.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    As a grandfather, I can tell you that the Revell models have tiny tiny pieces that don't fit making my grandsons frustrated.

    Online education doesn't get a constructive public airing. Most professors believe that the world will die after they stop teaching. Most of them can be easily replaced by YouTube. It's a complex problem we better deal with constructively before the administrator class will destroy the next generation.

    As labor unions supporter, outsourcing is a four letter word for me. The 787 suffers from childhood problems. This always happens. Boing will fix the problems and the 787 will be a great success. (I hope.)

  • Ed, I have to respectfully disagree with you on this online education thing. Not all online education degrees are the same.

    I teach at a community college in a rural state, and have recently been hired by a technical college in the same state. These are both state-run colleges, not the private colleges of the U. of P/Westwood variety. I teach in their online program, mostly history and bioethics courses, as well as a course on research writing and critical thinking.

    Now, I know that, just as in the clasroom, there are good teachers who make the students explore things in depth, work hard and continually demonstrate higher order thinking skills, and there are others who just phone it in. My undergrad and grad education (all state colleges, VT and CA) had some online components, and I had some shitty teachers online, and two of the best teachers I've ever had, online. They challenged me to think in ways I never had before, made me work my ass off, and inspired me to be the teacher I am today. I'm glad to say that one is now a colleague and another is my boss.

    The online scenario, when done properly, can be every bit as rigorous as traditional face-to-face classes, and a good online instructor is going to end up putting in a lot more hours than a f2f teacher if they want to be good at what they're doing. To do it right is demanding, I monitor and participate in discussion boards five days a week, not three hours on one day, grade papers, and also have the challenge of making these classes as engaging or more so than a f2f class.

    My girlfriend recently completed her MBA in healthcare management, a degree that is not offered in many schools. It was the most trying time of her life (at least since having children). She worked at least 15 to 20 hours every week, and it has paid off well for her, professionally, as she has knowledge that is specialized, that she mastered.

    There is no way in hell I would work at a place like U of P. It's places like that that really feed into the prejudice against online ed as somehow "lesser". I know it's not the case and I have seen and experienced plenty that confirms that. In working at community college, it has given me great satisfaction to have a student who is a single mom, working two jobs, finally have a eureka moment and show the joy in reaching that next step of critical thinking. I don't get paid much, it's hard work, but it is very rewarding.

    Both myself as a student, and many of my students have certainly "learned
    stuff", and stuff of substance. We've just been fortunate to have good schools and good teachers, in good online programs.

    I say this, with respect, of course, as I really do enjoy your perspectives on the blog, especially in regard to education matters. I just wonder if there's another side to online-ed that perhaps you haven't seen.

  • One mo' thing… being in a rural state, our online programs have made college possible for many people who, due to location, would have little to no options, otherwise, and many of hem have made the most of it.

  • In my life, I've really gained from Lynda.com
    However, to me it's a learning resource that I use to augment and improve my current skillset. I also have the luxury that I've been in the game long enough that I'm not reliant upon "education" quals to move forward.
    If I was just out, not sure how only having "certificates of completion" from Lynda.com would go down.

    Awesome take down of all that's wrong w industry today. Especially w the world Oooing and Ahing over the guy who "outsourced his own job". Personally I'd fire him. I hired him to do the work. Not someone else.

  • I would not say online classes are inherently bad or provide the student with an inferior experience. I've taken a few online courses at the community college I went to before transferring to a traditional state university. They were quite good, really. They seem to work best in literature/writing intensive classes, and less so with science or math classes which require a lot of back and forth explanation.

    Of course, the reason I found the online courses I took to be useful and rigorous is probably because my community college is one of the biggest and well-respected in the nation. Different institutions will offer different services, which is bad in this context, since we want everyone to be paying for an education, not a degree.

  • Duckbilledplacelot says:

    @Tim: if your literature/writing classes do not involve a lot of back and forth, you haven't been in very good literature/writing classes.

    Online classes are great if you're an autodidact. Without a good solid base training in critical thinking and research, though, they can be less than useless. I've taught both on and offline, and I agree with JD that it is much easier to teach well face to face. Which to me means we should stick to face to face as much as possible, not throw ourselves against the brick wall of online teaching over and over. Distance ed should be reserved for last ditch – people who literally don't have access, like rural Alaskans, etc, – not an equal trade for the kind of education that's been educating the entire human race until, like, now.

    Also, what the hell is wrong with the airline industry? Between TSA, seventy year old planes and 'improvements' like the Concord and Dreamliner, I think I'd like to go back to zeppelins, please.

  • Short comment on online ed: my brother god his degree online. With a full time job, having to support a family and take care of two kids, he couldn't have done it in a "regular" institution (at least not in a reasonable time-frame). He did his research before enrolling, and really got significant learning out of it. Anecdote, I know, and there's a lot of "buy a diploma from us dot com" rigs out there. But online makes education available in places and to people who would not otherwise get it. This has got to amount to something, right?

    Boeing: I work for a mega-corp high-tech company, but in a corner of the company that doesn't get much love. It's so much easier for us to get a sub-contractor to do a job than to hire someone, that it's scary. We know it's more expensive. We know the quality is lower (and you have to work hard on the receiving end to keep it reasonable). We know it's a schedule risk (always, no matter what the sub-con says). Everybody knows that up to and including the top brass. But HQ want the option to cut it at any moment, and it's that much harder to do with "actual people" than with sub-contractors. The way I see it, this is not a globalization issue per-se, but rather a labor issue (or Class issue, if you will). Whether the job itself is being done in Watdafoktustan or in the building next door doesn't really matter. It's the business relations that change the way it's perceived.
    And that, in itself, is a major problem, as it de-values the quality of a person's work much more than saying "it's cheaper over there, let's not buy it here".

  • I'm going with the theory that, since the planes were assembled in South Carolina, meth-addled rednecks are to blame for the issues.

  • I think the point that there are really 2 distance learning models is a good one. Years ago I had a very marginal grad student with a number of degrees from U of P. sample size of one, but there was simply no way he was doing Masters level work there and unable to write a coherent sentence for me. OTOH, I have a number of friends at real public universities who teach some distance courses, and these aren't the type to phone it in. OTTH, I fear that were I to teach on-line courses, I would do a much poorer job than I do f2f, and that might be true of many academics.

    You can quote me: the beginning of the end for our society was the day we stopped talking about actually doing things and started always talking about how much things cost. I blame the corporate bean counters and the idea that a corporation's sole function is to maximize shareholder value. That is the death knell of a civilization.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Congratulations, Boeing!
    You are now the proud sellers of the worlds first flightless aircraft!

    Hopefully, you'll be able to use your new flightless aircraft to taxi passengers at airports, to flights using your competitors planes – or, ones YOU built, back when you built most of the plane here, in the US.

    As for online classes, I agree that, while they're great if you live in rural areas, or trying to get a degree in a field not taught near you, from what I have seen from people who we hired (back when I was working), who got their degrees online, the education they got was still not as good as being in a classroom, interacting with the fellow students, and the Professor.

  • I want to chime in on the issue of online teaching. Online learning is actually great for upper-level courses, but it's a bit problematic for the surveys. A student in, say US History to 1877 or Western Civ 1 that's struggling will find it much easier to simply quit logging on to the class Blackboard page and then never being seen again by the instructor. When you actually have a classroom to come to at a set time, it means that you're less likely to simply vanish.

  • With the development of online education, the world will become flatter and the elite students of the west who can pay tuition money will not be the only ones with access to excellent educations and world class knowledge. I happen to think that is a remarkably positive development; why shouldn't a Romanian do the same work I do? She's a person too.

    There will certainly be a lot of beans to be saved and counted if the very best lecturers hold the very best, excellently prepared lectures … online. The TA's and RA's and discussion groups will have to do much more work for the students who want a certificate, but the overall quality and accessibility of education will definitely increase.

    I live in Sweden and take online courses from world class institutions. I don't need the credentials, but I do like to learn. I'm middle aged and can't easily just take a couple of years to go to MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, Yale or LSE. They certainly wouldn't let me in! Those institutions ( well, not Cambridge) do let me take part in their online courses and learn from some of the best lecturers in the world.

    I really enjoy my online classes. Michael Sandel's course on Justice (Harvard professor; the course is free on YouTube) was _excellent_. I'm sure I wouldn't pass a written exam now, a year later, but I do use the concepts daily.

    Robert Sapolsky's Human Behavioral Biology was also _excellent_, and also from a prestigious institution – Stanford – and free on YouTube.

    A few years ago I took an online creative writing class, also through Stanford, which was intense, interactive and rewarding and gave a certificate. Believe it or not, I am a better writer for it; there was a lot of room for improvement.

    Last year, my husband took a machine learning course from Coursera, with Andrew Ng as a teacher, and he says that he has never had as good a teacher or a more rewarding learning experience. He has a PhD in a related field. It doesn't hurt that he can do the course exercises when he thinks well, late at night, here in Sweden.

    This term, he's taking a course in web crawlers and learning Python. It's a good course as well.

    What's not to like for those of us who want to learn and aren't professional educators?

    The upheaval in the education industry will, of course, be painful for those employed in the industry. It's likely to take a similar form to the upheaval in the music industry; the superstars will get a lot more students and pay than the local cover band.

  • @Jane: "I happen to think that is a remarkably positive development; why shouldn't a Romanian do the same work I do? She's a person too."

    I and the rest of the commentariat here agree with you on this.

    The issue is when a job for a highly paid experienced professional role is farmed out to Olga because she's cheaper. Though she may be getting paid a comparative rate to a Lawyer in Stockholm by Bulgarian standards, the Lawyer in Stockholm has to drop their rates to meet that of Olga's to be "competitive".

    The problem is that Stockholm is considerably more expensive than Sofia, n'est-ce pas?

    So tell you what, you take the first pay cut, and then we'll talk.

  • …you take the first pay cut, and then we'll talk.

    And therein lies the root cause of the growing presence of distance learning, and complex aircraft that won't fly: it's all about the benjamins.

    Companies are not in business to sell quality products or to keep citizens gainfully employed. Companies exist for a solitary purpose, to generate profits. Any other action performed is merely means to that end.

  • …you take the first pay cut, and then we'll talk.,

    The problem with a race to the bottom is that eventually you hit bottom.

    If Olga in Bulgaria will do it cheaper I bet someone in Guangzhou will do it for even less.

    Start cutting pay to third-world levels and eventually your country is going to start looking like – you guessed it.

    Take a trip to Guangzhou sometime and tell me if that's what you want Stockholm to look like in 20 years.

  • "Take a trip to Guangzhou sometime and tell me if that's what you want Stockholm to look like in 20 years."

    Stockholm will need to pass though Charlestown on the way down to Guangzhou.

    Wait, sorry, my bad. Charlestown looks up, and aspires to be Guangzhou.

  • Outsourcing, aka cheaper foreign jobs/workers, is business's holding all of us hostage, aka the Stockholm Syndrome. and here we see the fruits of cheaper labor, destroyed lives, faulty planes, and a destroyed planet. HUGE Profits, though.!!!

    Cheap shit/planes, cars,etc, cheaper wages, worse results. the race to the bottom, expendable workers, expendable lives, whether in the plants building the planes or not.

    Profit is the GOD Business worships. nothing else matters. and this is GOOD? St. Reagan's "The Better World."

  • @Mjr: It's not so much Olga will do it for cheaper, but that she can because of cost of living. Though we could most likely stand to be corrected on this, as a member of the EU, Bulgaria would be closer to an equivalent of MS as they have to have certain base standards to meet.

    Graphic Design is being competition crowd sourced in India and across the archipelagos. They'll gladly turn in 15-20 concepts for A$100. Supposedly some a$$hole was tendering a rebrand for the UC system via one of these. So he'd get $20k+ and only pay A$200 for the logo. F— You!!

  • As long as the 'Dreamliners' are grounded the airlines won't be able to outsource the maintenance to Central America, China or some other cheap labor country. It's sad when it's cheaper to fly the plane half way around to world and back again to have the work done than to have it done here. The next time you get on a flight, ask yourself "Where was the last safety check done and could the person even read the checklist???"

  • I teach both face-to-face and online courses at a traditional university. The students who take my online courses seriously and work at them learn quite a bit. But the majority of students who sign up for the online courses are academically weaker and/or lazier than the average classroom student. I rarely have to give an F in my face-to-face classes, but I regularly fail half of my online students.

    People argue that online education is more efficient, but that just doesn't seem possible. I see so many students spending their (often borrowed) money and getting nothing for it, no learning and no credit towards graduation.

  • Mom Says I'm Handsome says:

    There are two additional factors at the source of Boeing's woes with the Dreamliner.

    The first is what I call "system versus modules." The plane is designed by Boeing engineers, who break up the plane (the "system") into components and assemblies ("modules") that can be outsourced to the most cost-effective subsuppliers. Each module has a set of specifications: not only how the module itself performs electrically, mechanically, etc., but also how it interfaces to adjoining modules. Needless to say, writing a perfect set of interface specs is very, very difficult, because you cannot account for every combination of conditions, and putting together modules into subassemblies is of limited value. The subsuppliers, having primarily been chosen for cost, aren't going to be of much help when their modules fail to work when they're assembled with other modules; they'll blame the system interface specs, or the other subs. Wrangling all those Boeing module engineering teams and their shitty Asian suppliers must be a mega-hassle.

    The other problem Boeing faces is that they're adopting technologies too early, imho. Lithium-ion batteries are still a nascent technology, even if you've been driving one around under the back seat of your Prius for a decade. The aircraft industry has been very conservative with its adoption of new technologies, with a safety track record to match, and there's a bit too much of "swinging for the fences" mentality when it comes to the 787…

  • Kulkuri: that happened here. The NSW govt having drunk the cheaper at all costs Kool-Aid. Loads rail cars on to ships for repairs in China.

    Mean while, the only rail manufacturing companies left are starved to death of work. There's no point in hiring/training apprentices. The rolling stock is aged beyond life expectancy, but who will build the new trains? Well if they intend to build them here, they'll now have to bring in "skilled migrants" as anyone with skill and knowledge is retiring.

    And at this point I shall quote Number 3:
    "You can quote me: the beginning of the end for our society was the day we stopped talking about actually doing things and started always talking about how much things cost. I blame the corporate bean counters and the idea that a corporation's sole function is to maximize shareholder value. That is the death knell of a civilization."

  • My employer has outsourced the bulk of our data processing to an Indian firm for years.

    We are a medium-sized company and so are they.

    The decision to outsource was made, of course, to save money. Supposedly India gave us "scaleability": if our business grew, we could compel them to grow with it; if our business shrank, well, India would have to fire people. Not us.

    Turns out, most of the "scaleability" has come about thanks to clients leaving us, sick of the mistakes "we" make – which are actually, natch, India's mistakes.

    "We don't have the responsibility of hiring, paying, and firing staff!"
    Right. Which means we have no control over who is actually doing our work. It disappears into a big box and comes out…well…"completed". But "correct"? Not usually.

    I work in an utterly unnecessary industry and if our stuff goes wrong no one gets hurt. But the idea of a complex high-tech airplane being farmed out the way our data processing is, with the same resultant quality problems, scares the hell out of me.

  • Online student says:

    I got my whole Assoc. degree online from Ivy Tech, Indiana's state community college. I worked my butt off for it. Online meant actual assignments, projects to demonstrate what I'd learned, and strict self-motivation. Now I'm at IUPUI, mostly taking GE courses that wouldn't transfer, where nothing more is required than sitting in the chair, reading the text, and passing four quizzes, one of which is usually dropped. I've never felt like such a sucker.

  • TomW, out of curiosity how many of the Fs that you give in your online courses come from folks who at a certain point just quit doing the work?

  • @Lecturer – Most of the F students stop working or wait until the last minute and plow through an enormous amount of material just before the final deadline. The courses are self-paced with few firm deadlines before the very end, it is easy to procrastinate. There would be lots of small deadlines along the way if it were entirely up to me, but the distance ed folks see lots of deadlines as reducing flexibility for working students and have resisted my efforts to add more deadlines along the way.

  • That's interesting: my school has me do online courses with lots of small-ish deadlines throughout the quarter and the standard model for the online syllabus says words to the effect that this is not a self-paced correspondence course. The deadlines help: I usually have a good sense of who's going to fail about a third of the way through the quarter.

  • That's interesting: my school has me do online courses with lots of deadlines throughout the quarter and the standard model for our online syllabus says words to the effect that this is not a self-paced correspondence course. The deadlines help: I usually have a good sense of who's going to fail about a third of the way through the quarter.

  • GI Bill is a little bit different. To get the full Stipend you have to be in a class up to 50% at a time the rest can be online.

    Of course I worked hard but I did see academic prowess and learned things but online doesn't provide the greatest feedback mechanism and not the best way of testing doing papers but great feedback mechanism on online interaction. Although disgusted with the blackboard system.

    Although I did graduate from a school that did become decertified from title 4 by being a diploma mill and not having a teacher\admin\student ratio that was proper and lots of old boy corruption. that school was not mountain state university, not at all… grrrr….

  • Seeing/analyzing says:

    My son is still in high school, but has been taking classes through the local community college for the past 2 years. As a parent, I see quite clearly that having a teacher in the class has been better for him. For example, he's not a natural language student, but an excellent instructor got him through four semesters of Spanish by keeping him engaged. OTOH, over the winter semester he's taking a general ed class online. It's online because the school has declined to renew the instructors in that field.

    The online class is completely pointless. It required a $200 online "book" and purchase of the "book" conferred a login, where the sections are completed and grades spit out without a human ever looking over the material.

  • Crackity Jones says:

    I think learning is very possible outside an academic setting. I became an "expert" in my (very narrow, unglamorous, not at all lucrative) area of law not by a fancy degree or courses taken while a student, but years and years of reading everything in my area I could find and contributing to it, etc.

    I agree with a liberal arts education as a foundation, but beyond that? What is a phd but guided self learning? (I consider seminars, which I occasionally teach, to be guided self learning as well). The most important skill is research and learning how to learn. Everyone should strive to be an autodidact. The most powerful learning in my life has come from self-direction with the guidance of mentors.

  • As someone employed in the aviation industry, outsourcing usually ends up costing more money. The chief designer at Lockheed Skunk Works, Kelly Johnson, once remarked that the engineers' desks should never be more than 50 feet from the assembly line. After 20 years of doing avionics, I can vouch for the wisdom behind that statement. If I had a dollar for every time I had to ask a drafter what was meant on a wiring diagram, I'd be making more money. Besides, I don't how many aircraft I had to fix quality issues on because the work could be outsourced and done faster. Just send that other company the blueprints and the wiring diagrams and they'll get it done even faster. We joke sometimes, "…that company is so fast, they can get an aircraft in and out and back in for warranty faster than you can get one done." I can only imagine the issues having techs from other countries assembling parts from your drawings.

  • Unfortunately it seems way too many people here got caught up on the online education intro. That's a shame, because Ed touches on a good point about globalization, which is really just a buzz word for international trade.

    I think a lot of liberals are too harsh on trade, but for the wrong reasons. There's a lot of shit that southeast Asia, not us, should do like make garments and electronics. On the whole we become wealthier, and that wealth can and should be taxed to provide a more robust safety net for everyone, including people who lose jobs from international trade. Will this ever happen? Probably not, but I can dream. Anyways, as Ed said, cheaper doesn't mean better. The "gains" from large parts of the third world making fancy airplanes evaporates when that fancy airplane plummets to the earth at 500 MPH killing everyone on board.

    Ironically enough, a decent amount of the 787 wouldn't have been outsourced if we as a country aimed for a weaker dollar, much to the chagrin of the financial industry.

  • Me, again. Good to see the different perspectives on online ed. I think it really comes down to the fact that there are good and bad, like anything. Some students need the interaction provided by f2f, others flourish online.

    There are shit-minimal-involvement-deadline online classes, and rigorous ones with strict deadlines, such as mine. The in-depth discussions I have in my classes rival anything I've had in f2f classes. The teacher has to know what they're doing, it has to be a good fit for the student. And small class size makes a huge difference. Most of my classes have 16 students, 25 max. I get to know the students to an extent over time, and can see the different ways in which they learn. It blows my mind at the level of engagement I sometimes see in my classes.

    It's not just ideal for rural students… it can work for anyone, but it has to be somewhat small, and the teacher has to be dedicated.

    There are shit online classes, but there's also a lot of prejudice, as well as fear from long-time instructors who fear the changes.

  • My father is an engineer in management at Boeing. Several years ago I remember asking him why the plane was delayed (again) and he sat me down and gave me a 4 hour talk about how disastrously the "outsourcing" had been going. None of this is anything new, but in the end Boeing ended up paying thousands of its employees to work inside with the subcontractors to be sure that they were doing things right. So it may have ended up costing them MORE than doing everything in-house.

    There's also a huge story to be told about the fire on the test flight that caused one of the huge delays in production. Not only had Boeing outsourced systems production, it also outsourced systems integration (which no company had any experience in as Boeing and Airbus and Douglas had always done it themselves). When they lost the first system (which I will also add was built above the second and third systems so when the parts started melting they melted down on top of the other "redundant" systems) the computers freaked out and they lost several major data and control interfaces. If the plane had not been on approach, people would have died, they may have even lost the aircraft. Worse would have been if that issue had someone slipped through the "cracks" and it occurred on one of the new ANA jets somewhere between Tokyo and LA. That would have been VERY bad.

  • I teach regular and online courses at a fairly large mid-western community college. To echo other comments, online courses can be a mixed affair. They are a good alternative for bright, self-motivated students who may not necessarily need the face-to-face time that a regular class offers. And part of it depends on how the courses are structured and how much involvement the instructor has with their students.

    The online courses I teach all have a structured format where an assignment, a discussion topic, or an exam need to completed by a specified date. And the exams – which constitute the bulk of their final grades – all need to be taken on campus (which means, I guess, that the courses I teach aren't "true" online).

    Which may be a slight inconvenience to some students (and I occasionally get complaints from students that they have to come to campus to take exams). However, you wouldn't believe the lengths that people will go to to cheat or subvert the spirit of getting an education. I shudder how other faculty deal with ensuring that the student enrolled in the course is actually the one completing the exams and other assignments.

    For all of my online courses, I have on-campus orientations that walk students through the course and give them an opportunity to meet with me and ask questions. And one of my classes I require students to come to campus to give a presentation. In addition, I spend almost all of my time while on campus interacting with my online students. So creating and maintaining online courses requires just as much, if not more, commitment and involvement with students as regular courses.

    Students who do poorly in an online environment are those who would have likely benefited from a regular class. Even with as much structure I provide for my online courses, I still have 3-5 students per course (out of 30-35 students) who simply "fade away" (that is, they don't complete all their coursework). Which isn't that much different that the regular courses offered at our institution.

  • The problem with a race to the bottom is that eventually you hit bottom.

    There is no bottom.

    There are a quarter of a billion Indians and Chinese starving to death.

    After that is a yet to be exploited workforce in sub-Saharan Africa, presuming we haven't wrung the last bits of labor out of Eastern Europe.

    By the time that's done, overpopulation will have worked it's way back around to Central and South America. Then, eventually, it will come back to us for pennies on the dollar.

    But as for the lifetimes of you and I, there is no bottom, I assure you.

  • About the race to the bottom… Yes, I do see that all of us in the rich country's club are threatened by other people doing work we thought was our right to have to ourselves.

    The availability of good education and good management techniques and good infrastructure to more people globally threatens that privilege, a privilege we got by being born to carefully chosen parents.

    From the other side… the other people want the opportunity of a good life, and at the moment there are structures in place preventing them from having that opportunity. Many of these people will move, or the jobs will move to them, or they will create economic growth and stay where they are.

    The poorest are people, who watch TV or YouTube, see what the rest of us have, and want the opportunity to have the same things. They have Internet on their mobiles. People spend hours walking to a place with a charged car battery to recharge their mobile phones, and spend a fair bit of their income to get that recharge. They choose having Internet access over having toilets. Information access, and that chance of a better life, is that important to these other people. I can sympathize.

    Will my pay and my life quality be lower as economic opportunity spreads globally? Yes. It already is. I remember back 30 years ago, it was normal to work 8 – 16:30 with coffee breaks and lunch breaks. The salary I had then went further than the salary of people doing that same work in PC support now.

    All I can do, and my rich country can do, is to encourage new firms and hope they prosper. We can also teach people in the poorer countries to start new firms themselves. We can spread the income around in order to have a middle class society post tax and transfers despite large differences in market income.

    I agree, the pace of change is scary, and the scale of change is scary, and technology is changing work at a very scary pace.

    I really can't see what life will be like in another twenty years.

  • Actually, the Boeing bet was that Boeing did little value added in creating an airplane. If you could outsource everything, why did you need Boeing? The MBA wisdom was that the company should have liquidated and sold the Boeing trademark to the highest bidder. Who knows? They might still do that now that they've moved their airplane building abilities offshore.

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