The future of university education, according to who?
Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Updated: Thursday, July 5, 2012 15:07
In How Teens Use Media: A Nielsen Report on the Myths and Realities of Teen Media Trends (June 2009) Nielsen (the media research organization) explores the facts and fiction of how teenagers are making use of mediated communication. What the report's format and findings remind us is that while we might like to presume that we know how youth are communicating, our presumptions are not always accurate.
The first myth offered in the report is that teens are unfocused in their media activities and "use 10 screens at a time." The report presents the reality that "teens are more likely than adults to use their media one at a time". Or what about the myth that "teens are the most avid users of the Internet"? The report presents the reality that "teens browse less than half as much as the typical user".
I thought of this report recently as I talked with a colleague about Brock's new ventures into the development and teaching of online courses. Because, while it makes sense that our Facebooked, Tweeted, Googled, Prezied, etc., world affects how such things as sharing, exploring and learning are done, it also makes sense that students would be one of the central pillars on which the university's vision for the future is being built.
That said, as far as I can tell, students have not been asked to join an inclusive, collaborative and creative discussion about a vision for the future – and the role communication technology might play in achieving that vision. The biggest danger, I believe, in not proceeding with such an inclusive, collaborative, and creative discussion about a vision for the future is that in the absence of discussion, the most obvious motivator will guide us: money.
Don't get me wrong, I understand that universities are big businesses. And I get that with lecture halls currently holding hundreds of students, gazing down upon a professor… somewhere… down below, it's not a big step to selling students on such things as the benefits of a professor-on-a-screen. After all, a professor-on-a-screen can be accessed wherever and whenever you want (while you wear and do anything you want). A professor-on-a-screen can be paused, fast-forwarded and yes, even deleted on demand. The university can also benefit from a professor-on-a-screen. With no space limitations, one course need not stop at reaching hundreds of students. Heck, make it thousands, even tens of thousands.
And, maybe this is the vision of the future university that excites you. Perhaps you like the idea of buffet-style university education where you can pick and choose online courses offered by the "best professors." Perhaps you could choose from online courses offered by universities around the world. Perhaps the bricks and mortar of university campuses would be better saved for short-term small group immersive academic residencies. Perhaps...
This brings me back to the Nielsen Myths and Realities report. Without the research, without the discussions, we won't know what visions students have. We won't know unless we ask. But here's my suggestion. I don't think that you should wait to be asked. Your visions for Brock, and university education more generally, in the 21st century are needed right now. In fact, maybe The Brock Press should become one of the places that such a discussion can take place. Send in your "This is my vision for Brock in the 21st century…" essays now.