In the industrial model of student mass production, the teacher is the broadcaster. A broadcast is by definition the transmission of information from transmitter to receiver in a one-way, linear fashion. The teacher is the transmitter and student is a receptor in the learning process. The formula goes like this: "I'm a professor and I have knowledge. You're a student, you're an empty vessel and you don't. Get ready, here it comes. Your goal is to take this data into your short-term memory and through practice and repetition build deeper cognitive structures so you can recall it to me when I test you."... The definition of a lecture has become the process in which the notes of the teacher go to the notes of the student without going through the brains of either.
THE IMPENDING DEMISE OF THE UNIVERSITY [6.4.09]
In his Edge feature "Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus", Clay Shirky noted that after WWII we were faced with something new: "free time. Lots and lots of free time. The amount of unstructured time among the educated population ballooned, accounting for billions of hours a year. And what did we do with that time? Mostly, we watched TV."
In "The End of Universal Rationality", Yochai Benkler explored the social implications of the Internet and network societies since the early 90s. Benkler has been looking at the social implications of the Internet and network societies since the early 90s. He saw the end of an era:
Benkler believes that these "phenomena on the Net are not ephemeral". And he has spent the last 20 years trying to get his head around the process of understanding what is transpiring.
In a Reality Club discussion "On 'Is Google Making Us Stupid' By Nicholas Carr" W. Daniel Hillis, Kevin Kelly, Nicholas Carr, Jaron Lanier, Douglas Rushkoff and others explored the future of the printed book.
Enter Don Tapscott, who is looking at the challenges the digital revolution poses to the fundamental aspects of the University.
"Universities are finally losing their monopoly on higher learning", he writes. "There is fundamental challenge to the foundational modus operandi of the University — the model of pedagogy. Specifically, there is a widening gap between the model of learning offered by many big universities and the natural way that young people who have grown up digital best learn."
Contrary to Nicholas Carr's proposition that Google is making us stupid, Tapscott counters with the following:
This is a topic that is worthy of a serious conversation by the Edge community and I hope to present comments from contributors in future Edge editions.
— John Brockman
THE IMPENDING DEMISE OF THE UNIVERSITY
For fifteen years, I've been arguing that the digital revolution will challenge many fundamental aspects of the University. I've not been alone. In 1998, none other than, Peter Drucker predicted that big universities would be "relics" within 30 years.
Flash forward to today and you'd be reasonable to think that we have been quite wrong. University attendance is at an all time high. The percentage of young people enrolling in degree granting institutions rose over 115% from 1969-1970 to 2005-2007, while the percentage of 25- to 29-year-old Americans with a college degree doubled. The competition to get into the greatest universities has never been fiercer. At first blush the university seems to be in greater demand than ever.
Yet there are troubling indicators that the picture is not so rosy. And I'm not just talking about the decimation of university endowments by the current financial meltdown.
Universities are finally losing their monopoly on higher learning, as the web inexorably becomes the dominant infrastructure for knowledge serving both as a container and as a global platform for knowledge exchange between people.
Meanwhile on campus, there is fundamental challenge to the foundational modus operandi of the University — the model of pedagogy. Specifically, there is a widening gap between the model of learning offered by many big universities and the natural way that young people who have grown up digital best learn.
The old-style lecture, with the professor standing at the podium in front of a large group of students, is still a fixture of university life on many campuses. It's a model that is teacher-focused, one-way, one-size-fits-all and the student is isolated in the learning process. Yet the students, who have grown up in an interactive digital world, learn differently. Schooled on Google and Wikipedia, they want to inquire, not rely on the professor for a detailed roadmap. They want an animated conversation, not a lecture. They want an interactive education, not a broadcast one that might have been perfectly fine for the Industrial Age, or even for boomers. These students are making new demands of universities, and if the universities try to ignore them, they will do so at their peril.
The model of pedagogy, of course, is only one target of criticism directed toward universities.
The Many Challenges to the University
Most resources of large universities are directed towards research, not learning. The universities are not primarily institutes of higher learning, but institutes for science and research. In his book Rethinking Science, Michael Gibbons developed a scathing critique of the current model science as conducted in the university.
Recently the questioning has heated up on other fronts. In the New York Times last month, Mark Taylor, chairman of Columbia University's religion department, whipped up a storm of academic controversy with a provocative OpEd page article called "The End of University as We Know It".
"Graduate education," he began, "is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans)." The key problem, he noted, began with Kant in his 1798 work, "The Conflict of the Faculties." Kant argued that universities should "handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee."
Taylor argued that graduate education must be restructured at a fundamental level to move away from the ultra-narrow scholarship. Among other things, he called for more cross-disciplinary inquiry, the creation of problem-focused programs, with a sunset clause, as well as more collaboration between all educational institutions, and the abolition of tenure. One week later, the outcry from fellow academics filled the entire letters page on the Sunday New York Times. One of his own colleagues at Columbia said it was "alarming and embarrassing" to hear "crass anti-intellectualism" emerge from his own institution. Another academic accused Taylor of "poisoning the waters of higher education."
The Model of Pedagogy
Whatever the merits of Taylor's call to restructure higher education, I think he is right to call for a deep debate on how universities function in a networked society. Yet I think he misses the most fundamental challenge to the university as we know it. The basic model of pedagogy is broken. "Broadcast learning" as I've called it is no longer appropriate for the digital age and for a new generation of students who represent the future of learning.
In the industrial model of student mass production, the teacher is the broadcaster. A broadcast is by definition the transmission of information from transmitter to receiver in a one-way, linear fashion. The teacher is the transmitter and student is a receptor in the learning process. The formula goes like this: "I'm a professor and I have knowledge. You're a student you're an empty vassal and you don't. Get ready, here it comes. Your goal is to take this data into your short-term memory and through practice and repetition build deeper cognitive structures so you can recall it to me when I test you."
The New Generation of Students
The broadcast model might have been perfectly adequate for the baby-boomers, who grew up in broadcast mode, watching 24 hours a week of television (not to mention being broadcast to as children by parents, as students by teachers, as citizens by politicians, and when then entered the workforce as employees by bosses). But young people who have grown up digital are abandoning one-way TV for the higher stimulus of interactive communication they find on the Internet. In fact television viewing is dropping and TV has become nothing more than ambient media for youth — akin to Muzak. Sitting mutely in front of a TV set — or a professor — doesn't appeal to or work for this generation. They learn differently best through non-sequential, interactive, asynchronous, multi-tasked and collaborative
Some writers, of course, think that Google makes you stupid; it's so hard to concentrate and think deeply amid the overwhelming amounts of bits of information online, they contend. Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, even calls them the "dumbest generation" in his recent book on the topic.
My research suggests these critics are wrong. Growing up digital has changed the way their minds work in a manner that will help them handle the challenges of the digital age. They're used to multi-tasking, and have learned to handle the information overload. They expect a two-way conversation. What's more, growing up digital has encouraged this generation to be active and demanding enquirers. Rather than waiting for a trusted professor to tell them what's going on, they find out on their own on everything from Google to Wikipedia.
If universities want to adapt the teaching techniques to their current audience, they should, as I've been saying for years, make significant changes to the pedagogy. And the new model of learning is not only appropriate for youth — but increasingly for all of us. In this generation's culture is the new culture of learning.
The professors who remain relevant will have to abandon the traditional lecture, and start listening and conversing with the students — shifting from a broadcast style and adopting an interactive one. Second, they should encourage students to discover for themselves, and learn a process of discovery and critical thinking instead of just memorizing the professor's store of information. Third, they need to encourage students to collaborate among themselves and with others outside the university. Finally, they need to tailor the style of education to their students' individual learning styles.
Because of technology this is now possible. But this is not fundamentally about technology per se. Rather it represents a change in the relationship between students and teachers in the learning process.
The Most Vulnerable Universities
But the same cannot be said of many of the big universities that regard their prime role to be a centre for research, with teaching as an inconvenient afterthought, and class sizes so large that they only want to "teach" is through lectures.
These universities are vulnerable, especially at a time when students can watch lectures online for free by some of the world's leading professors on sites like Academic Earth. They can even take the entire course online, for credit. According to the Sloan Consortium, a recent article in Chronicle of Higher Education tells us, "nearly 20 per cent of college students — some 3.9 million people — took an online course in 2007, and their numbers are growing by hundreds of thousands each year. The University of Phoenix enrolls over 200,000 each year."
The New Model
This technique produces real results. An evaluation study of 350 Cornell students found that those who were asked "deep questions" (that elicit higher-order thinking) with frequent peer discussion scored noticeably higher on their math exams than students who were not asked deep questions or who had little to no chance for peer discussion. Dr. Terrell explains: "It's when the students talk about what they think is going on and why, that's where the biggest learning occurs for them.... You can hear people sort of saying, 'Oh I see, I get it.' ... And then they're explaining to somebody else ... and there's an authentic understanding of what's going on. So much better than what would happen if I, as the teacher person, explain it. There's something that happens with this peer instruction."
There were no lectures. Just as well: the statistics lecture is by definition a bust. There is no "one-size-fits-all" for statistics – everyone in the lecture hall is either bored or doesn't get it. Instead, we got face-to-face time with Dr. Hunka, who was freed up from being a transmitter of data to someone who customized a learning experience for each of us, one on one.
A Challenge to Teaching
But if campuses are seen as places where learning is inferior to other models, or worse places where learning is restricted and stifled, the role of the campus experience will be undermined as well.
Campuses that embrace the new models become more effective learning environments and more desirable places. Even something as simple as online lectures do not undermine the value of on-campus education, they have enhanced it. The video lectures allow students to absorb the course content online — whenever it's convenient — and then get together to tinker, invent new things, or discuss the material. The experience has shown MIT that real value of what they offer is not the lecture per se, but rather the whole package — the content tied to the human learning experience on campus, plus the certification. Universities, in other words, cannot survive on lectures alone.
A Challenge to the Relationship of the University to Other Institutions
"The time has come for some far reaching changes to the university, our model of pedagogy, how we operate, and our relationship to the rest of the world," says Luis M. Proenza, president of the University of Akron.
He asks a provocative question: Why should a university student be restricted to learning from the professors at the university he or she is attending. True, students can obviously learn from intellectuals around the world through books, or via the Internet. Yet in a digital world, why shouldn't a student be able to take a course from a professor at another university? Proenza thinks universities should use the Internet to create a global centre of excellence. In other words, choose the best courses you have and link them with the best at a handful of universities around the world to create an unquestionably best-in-class program for students. Students would get to learn from the world's greatest minds in their area of interest — either in the physical classroom, or online. This global academy would be also be open to anyone online. This is a beautiful example of the collaboration I described in the book I co-authored, Wikinomics.
So why hasn't it happened yet? "It's the legacy of established human and educational infrastructure," says Proenza. The analogy is not the newspaper business, which has been weakened by the distribution of knowledge on the Internet, he notes. "We're more like health care. We're challenged by obstructive, non-market-based business models. We're also burdened by a sense that doctor knows best, or professor knows best."
"There are a lot of sacred cows," he said. Why, for example, are universities judged by the number of students they exclude, or by how much they spend? Why aren't they judged by how well they teach, and at what price?
Old Paradigms Die Hard
Changing the model of pedagogy for this generation is crucial for the survival of the university. If students turn away from a traditional university education, this will erode the value of the credentials universities award, their position as centers of learning and research, and as campuses where young people get a change to "grow up."
REALITY CLUB: James O'Donnell, Marc D. Hauser
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