On Quoting and Misquoting

The New York Times today ran a story by Tamar Lewin about badges and the future of credentialing. Several quotes attributed to me were featured in the article. Unfortunately for me, I did not ask “Who needs a university anymore?” as the article states I did. Reporters just can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to sensationalizing things I say.

Formal post-secondary institutions like universities currently serve about 120M people worldwide. The number of people qualified for and desiring a post-secondary experience is estimated to grow to 250M in the next 20 years. Clearly, we don’t need to be closing down universities and decreasing the capacity the system currently has – we need to be adding alternatives that scale in new and innovative ways in order to cope with the doubling of demand the system is about to experience. I went through these numbers with Ms. Lewin during our interview at some length. Where she gets the idea that I think we don’t need universities anymore is beyond me.

Now, am I very bullish on the opportunities for badges and other credentials to challenge the monopoly position held over employment opportunities by the degree? Yes. Do I think this will create competition in the education space? Yes. Do I think badges and other alternative credentials will render universities obsolete? Certainly not in my life time – though the distant future is never certain.

Just to be clear: I have always believed and continue to believe that universities are a critical part of the post-secondary education ecosystem. I wish people would quit trying to ventriloquize me as saying otherwise.

5 thoughts on “On Quoting and Misquoting”

  1. Here is my number one bit of advice for people being interviewed:  Record the interview.  The journalist is (or should be). There is no reason on earth why you can’t be afforded the same privilege.  They will think twice about a quote tweak if they know you have a record of what you said.  And you don’t even have to figure out how to record their half of the conversation if it is logistically difficult.  Just tell them what you are doing (so you are in compliance with federal law…after you get their consent, you will want to say on the actual recording to them that you are recording this conversation) and then record your half of the conversation.  If they refuse, ask them why?  Isn’t the point of the exchange for them to represent a portion of what you have to say accurately in a larger context?  All you are doing is making a back up copy of what you actually said to them.

    If you still want to participate, you can ask them to email you the questions and tell them you will respond in writing.  They won’t like this (and will tell you that written quotes sound awful (though places like Ars Technica do this all the time successfully)), and may not use you, but, then, well, so what? 

    Here is my number two bit of advice: Ask that any quotes they plan to use in the story be read back to you to for verification prior to publication.  This is not the same as asking to review their story before publication (they will refuse this).  The purpose is to check for accuracy on what you said.  In the past at least, this was standard practice, I am told, at places like the Wall Street Journal. 

  2. Well, you did say that “the jig is up for traditional higher education institutions” 😉 I appreciate that you had an entirely different shade of meaning, and you caveated in the post of a similar name that this didn’t mean you expected the edupocalypse … but unfortunately journalists do like to sensationalise.

    I’ve seen that quote used a few times and always refer them to this post. But unfortunately it’s such a powerful quote that the mere fact of you not actually having said it might not get in the way of it becoming a meme. Good luck!

  3. I read the article today because it was referenced on Getting Smart. The quotes didn’t quite make sense so I’m glad I came back to the source, your blog. Thank you for this blog and for your post that demystify the topic of educational technology. I wish I had taken a class from you when I was back at BYU. Maybe I’ll come back for my PhD. Keep up the great work.

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