universities

The university of the future: Marching toward obsolescence?

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A couple weeks ago, Carlos Scolari interviewed me for a project on pedagogical innovation and disruptive practices in higher education at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona). The aim of the project is to produce a document on the “university of the future,” including diagnosis, trends, and proposals for moving forward.

With his permission, I am sharing my responses to his questions:

CS: How do you see the situation of the universities from a pedagogical point view? I’m thinking in the situation of teaching-learning processes inside these big institutions.

JM: From a pedagogical viewpoint, universities have invested too much in a monocultural approach to education. Most universities are using the same methods to teach all the same stuff. This is very dangerous as the world is changing so quickly that entire fields and bodies of knowledge risk being outdated/outmoded very quickly.

I believe that we need to start to expand the ecology of options that we have in higher education, including pedagogical approaches. Otherwise, we run the risk of failing universally.

CS: Why do you think it’s so difficult to change the teaching-learning practices in the universities?

JM: I think change is difficult within universities because we rely heavily on academic “traditions” that are built on faulty assumptions of teaching and learning. Some of most troubling assumptions (which are not based on science) include:

  • Motivation: We assume students must be externally motivated to learn, otherwise they would not learn anything. This is akin to assuming the natural state of humans is laziness and non-curious.
  • Age segregation: We assume people learn best when segregated by age or ability. We tend to compartmentalize education into certain discrete levels (i.e., primary, secondary, and tertiary education), and further segregate students by age. There is very little reason to support this practice, and evidence suggests that cross age/ability integration enhances students’ learning.
  • Power structures: We assume that the only “qualified” knowledge generators are the teachers at the head of the classroom, who download knowledge into students’ heads. In today’s world where the magnitude of change is accelerating at an exponential pace, information and knowledge is always in flux. Rather than relying on static “experts,” we need to start recognizing and attending to new power structures where we all serve as co-learners and co-teachers.

The good news is that “traditions” are things that we invent all the time. I am optimistic that we can create new traditions that are relevant to modern society.

CS: How can we improve the teaching-learning processes in the universities?

JM: I think we should look at new uses for software and social technologies to enable all participants at universities to become life-long co-teachers as well as co-learners. This means that students (and teachers) need to stop behaving as consumers of education, but become creators, producers, and prosumers. At the same time, learning needs to become more immersive and personally-meaningful (subjective experiences) to each learner. This means that we are likely to not have one master narrative for learning at universities, but we may have many different ones, enabling students and faculty to express themselves as postdisciplinary knowledge experts (possessing unique knowledge at the individual level).

CS: Could you please indicate three (3) innovative/disruptive teaching-learning experiences? They could be single practices (i.e. flip teaching) or institutional ones (i.e. Coursera).

JM:

  1. Democratic education: Educational institutions tend to run as dictatorships, and are structured to preserve themselves. By horizontalizing our relationships, and making sure to give each stakeholder an equal voice, we could see significant, positive disruption as students and faculty become co-responsible for attending to all aspects of the educational experience.
  2. Quest-based learning: Thieu Besselink wrote an excellent chapter on this in Knowmad Society: http://www.knowmadsociety.com
  3. Co-teaching: This is best expressed by what E-180 and the Shibuya University Network already engage in.

CS: How do you imagine the university of the future? Please indicate three (3) characteristics.

JM: This question is perhaps faulty in that it assumes that we will have universities in the future. Maybe you should start with the question: Does the future need universities?

Let’s assume that the future does need universities. In that case, I envision near-future institutions will operate in an environment where…

  1. Any form of information delivery that can be commodified, will be. We see this today with the emergence of MOOCs, Udemy, Coursera, etc. Any non-unique content delivery (especially through download-style pedagogies) will be provided through these platforms, and through a small group of providers. This is particularly threatening to junior colleges, general education courses at mainstream universities, and perhaps also to secondary education.
  2. The gap between top tier schools and everybody else will widen. The top schools may not have superior educational offerings, but they have powerful brands. Why pay to take a course at the University of Minnesota when you can participate in a free, online experience that is affiliated with a top school, such as Stanford or MIT? My take is that the top-tier schools with powerful brand identities will “own” higher education; and, in many respects, other universities will become subscribers to their products and services.
  3. Smaller, “boutique” programs outside the formal, accredited system will boom in presence and market share. Small, but highly specialized, programs such as KaosPilots, Knowmads, YIP, Hyper Island, and the Shibuya University Network operate outside of formal education, and have each developed their own approaches to teaching and learning. In an era where mainstream society are beginning to question the value of a university degree, these programs offer alternatives, and employers will become much, much more receptive to the “graduates” of these alternative education/credentialing programs.

I think that, apart from the very few elite institutions, universities are marching themselves toward obsolescence, and they may be the last to figure it out. Remember, as Anya Kamentz pointed out in her interview at Education Futures, the Roman Senate continued to meet for several centuries after the collapse of the empire.

Review: Generation on a tightrope (by Arthur Levine and Diane R. Dean)

Book: Generation on a tightrope: A portrait of today’s college student
Author: Arthur Levine and Diane R. Dean
Publisher: Jossey-Bass (September 4, 2012)

If, as the saying goes, our understanding of the past is 20/20, capturing the zeitgeist of the present — and, in particular, of a group outside of your own — can be tricky. Arthur Levine and Diane Dean took on the challenge, and produced a vivid portrait in Generation on a tightrope: A portrait of today’s college student.

From the introduction:

Today’s undergraduates and students who attended college before them were optimistic about their personal futures, pessimistic about that nation’s future, committed to the American Dream, little involved in campus life, disenchanted with politics and government, more issue oriented than ideological, engaged in community service, utilitarian in their goals for college, weak in academic skills, beneficiaries of inflated grades, heavy users of psychological counseling services, consumer-oriented regarding higher education, and partial to sex and alcohol, among other things.

Levine and Dean engage in a discussion of findings gathered from a number of studies, including Dean’s ongoing Portrait of today’s college student study, and the book is intended to complement Levin’s studies on previous generations: When hope and fear collide (1998), and When dreams and heroes died (1980). Generation on a tightrope is based on new research of 5,000 college students and student affairs practitioners from 270 college campuses.

At first glance, the book appears to work with the familiar theme of generational attitudes toward the digitalization of society. Rather than emulating Marc Prensky’s binary perspective of youth and technology (digital immigrants vs. digital natives), however, Levine and Dean provide a much more credible viewpoint that the variables involved are numerous and sometimes contradictory. Moreover, they recognize that tremendous socioeconomic change is still underway. This provides for a more fluid interpretation of the present that is informed by its past, tries to understand itself today, and looks toward the future.

By looking at strengths and challenges within the current generation of college students, the authors take a pragmatic view that they should be undervalued compared to previous generations, but rather:

[…] this generation requires a different brand of education that will enable them to attain their personal dreams and to serve the society they must lead. The education we offered to previous generations, whether successful or not, will not work for these students. (Chapter 8)

Will universities take on the challenge?

The bottom line: Generation on a tightrope provides a snapshot of the present that is informed by our past. The strength of the book is reflected in the depth of discussion of many dimensions shared by today’s college students. The resultant snapshot should be used to inform university administrators, policy makers, parents, and students as they build universities that are relevant for the future.


Note: The publisher provided a copy of the book for review. Please read our review policy for more details on how we review products and services.

Pew/Elon: Technologies poised to outpace universities

A survey of technology experts suggest higher education in 2020 will be quite different than it is today with expectations of more-efficient collaborative environments and evaluation schemes.

In the Pew Internet/Elon University survey, 1,021 Internet experts, researchers, observers and users, 60% agreed with a statement that by 2020 “there will be mass adoption of teleconferencing and distance learning to leverage expert resources…a transition to ‘hybrid’ classes that combine online learning components with less-frequent on-campus, in-person class meetings.” Some 39% agreed with an opposing statement that said, “in 2020 higher education will not be much different from the way it is today.”

The full report is available here.

Although the survey methods employed do not yield scientifically meaningful results, it does suggest that there is a rift forming between university leaders and technologies on their visions of the “university of the future.” From the report:

A historical perspective was offered by Dan Ness, principal research analyst at MetaFacts, producers of the Technology User Profile. “The evolution of higher education might best be measured along a geologic timeframe than mere years or decades,” he wrote. “As a former college professor in Silicon Valley (before it was called that), I’ve seen new technologies emerge which promise to evolve higher education. In the 1970s, we talked about the exciting promises of distance learning and on-campus technology, only to meet the inertia of the administration and educators, as well as students. Certainly, education continues to evolve. However, expecting a dramatic change by 2020 may be bit sensationalistic.”

The year 2020 is only eight years away. Can universities pick up the pace and lead change, or will they follow the leads of others?

A plutocratic education

This piece from KQED captured my attention:

a number of authors and high-profile businesspeople and entrepreneurs are debunking the notion that college is the best solution. They’re questioning whether paying tens of thousands of dollars and investing four or five years in an institution should be the default for young people when so many more options exist. With free, high-quality education available to anyone, is college necessary? These folks say no.

Indeed, we have been hearing a lot from the überwealthy lately on what they think of education. Bill Gates thinks the Web will outperform universities (Windows required?); Peter Thiel thinks higher education is in a bubble of false promises; Mark Zuckerberg dabbles by bankrolling Newark’s schools; and, Oprah is waiting for Superman to revolutionize America’s schools.

They might be right. But, that’s not the point.

The problem is that these people have hijacked the entire conversation.

If the ultra wealthy are concerned about America’s competitiveness, the schools aren’t failing. They’re failing the schools. The nation’s ranking on the PISA tables continues to slip, but if we control for poverty, we’re darn near the top.

Maybe the problem doesn’t stem from failing schools and a rotting education system. Maybe the problem is that the number of America’s poor under 18 years of age is rising (21.7% live in poverty as reported by UNICEF in 2007) and wealth among all age groups is being concentrated to a tiny percentage of the population. Given a problem that is rooted in poverty, can we trust the ultra wealthy to “fix” education? …or, can we build a more inclusive conversation and generate more realistic solutions?

Cobo and Moravec discuss Invisible Learning

John Moravec and Cristóbal Cobo engage in a one-on-one dialogue on new dimensions for thinking about learning. In this conversation, they share some of the most important ideas developed in the book, Aprendizaje Invisible (Invisible Learning), to be released next week. More information is available at www.invisiblelearning.com.

(Note: Conversation alternates between Spanish and English.)Картини