University 2010: "Are You Ready for Me?"
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"University 2010: Are You Ready for Me?" I steal part of my title from that of an essay published in Converge magazine by a young high school senior. She addresses it to you. She says: "Next year, I will be attending your university. Are you ready for me?"(Binns, 1999). She describes her "high-tech" exploits in high school, her access to high-end computer labs, her laptop mobility that allows her to attend educational conferences and "real-life internships" while keeping up with her classes through websites and email.
What we worry about right now when we think about technology and education, and what our statistical information points us to again and again, are those "non-traditional" learners, as we classify them, those adults beyond the "18-22 year old- with-tuition and dorm paying- parents" range who are taking advantage of the opportunities that online learning affords them . And while we should, because the term "life-long learner" will soon become an axiom that affects the direction and make-up of every institution of higher education, her essay is fair warning to all of us--not just to the "Doubting Thomases" still hemming and hawing over the feasibility and value of Internet-based instruction-- that the new batch of students lining up at the ivory walls were teethed on computers and that, for many of them, the Internet has far and above been their "Dick and Jane."
We have reached a point in this process of technology adoption where we have begun to prove to ourselves that what we do in the face to face classroom can be done through online technology. Recently, at EduCause, presentation after presentation raised the same issues in faculty development, instructional design and online teaching. I call these the "buzzwords" of online learning: "Content-chunking," "Instructional multimedia," "Portfolio assessment," "Interaction," "Learner-centered" instruction. Right now, text online, graphic representations, multimedia, a reliance on asynchronous communication and hyperlinks to the World Wide Web are basically what online teaching consists of, which is all very well and good. We are succeeding at giving the same educational opportunities to the non-traditional student who is looking for convenience and ease beyond the restrictions of the college campus that we give to our traditional students. We are succeeding in creating community in our online classrooms which every governing educational body deems the most important key to effective instruction. But is this enough? Is it really okay if online courses are only "just as good" as traditional classes? What are our students expectations and demands, now and in the future, not only for the classroom, but the university at large? And what should ours be?
An article written for The American Center for the Study of Distance Education makes this statement "The question is no longer how to use technology to do the same thing better. Now the question is how to use technology . . .as a catalyst for change and as a tool in creating, implementing, managing, and communicating a new conception of teaching and learning and a system that supports it" (David, 1994). Whats compelling about this quote is the fact that it is almost six years old. And yet, we are still grappling with the challenge of using technology so that it isnt merely a vehicle for the mimicry of the traditional classroom, but allows for the learning process to be so fundamentally expanded that mere mimicry of what was past pedagogy becomes an affront to the learning potential of our students.
It has been predicted that "in a few years, high-performance computing and communications will make knowledge utilities, virtual communities, shared synthetic environments, and sensory immersion as routine a part of everyday existence as the telephone, television, radio, and newspapers are today (Dede, 1997). How can technology then not become a vital part of education, and a catalyst for its change?
What is the purpose of higher education? Would any one of us want to say it is simply about "job training"? Or is it about giving people the passion and skills to make cognitive and analytical sense of this dynamic, information-ladened world on their own? How do we begin to give them this passion and skill? Isnt it partly through the material resources we help our students to find that engages them, that we guide them into understanding and critically assessing? Isnt it through reflective and dynamic academic discourse? Isnt this what Internet technology can make available to us and our students: a wealth of content easily accessible, a way to make content instructionally engaging to our students no matter what their natural learning styles may be, the opportunities for our students to interact with that content on many different levels, a way to create community and peer mentorship outside the time and geographical boundaries of the classroom, a way to easily assess our students beyond standardized, quantifiable means?
One question now is how can anyone who has taught online ever go back to the regular classroom and teach the way he or she did without using Internet technology. Right now, there are smart classrooms, increasingly user-friendly technologies, changing views on pedagogy, student expectations that technology will and should be used as a fundamental part of the teaching process. Online classrooms? Traditional classrooms? The two will merge as Internet technology becomes the vehicle norm for research, presentation, and class interaction, and we continue to give students new ways to become more active and directly involved in their own education, to become those life-long "self-learners."
What can the new hybrid classroom of 2010 offer the students soon knocking at the "door"? Given the dizzying pace at which new technology emerges and changes, it is difficult to be a total "seer." But we can look at what is already happening, and predict how these things will escalate. Right now, we have interdisciplinary teaching in the classroom now, but what if we could take this to the next step and the interdisciplinary teaching cut across geographic boundaries, so that the expert in political science in the East can combine forces with the history expert or the social studies expert of the Mid-west and South? What if these same experts were available to any course and could spotlight as guest lectures in live webcasts or discussion facilitators in asynchronous discussions? The experiential learning from probing a formaldehyde frog occurs in labs everywhere now. What if the opportunities for experiential learning were expanded through Internet technology? Through animation and simulation? Through the manipulation of content so that a new "buzzword" for online learning becomes "interactivity" and, again, students are taken out of the role of passive learners? Already the prototype of these kinds of resources is available on the Internet.
Right now there are teams of educators who bike through the Andes or hike through rain forests with a laptop and teach K-12 students about these places through updated websites that contain video, audio, digital photos and text. This is only a first baby step: imagine the live webcast from The Duomo in Florence as the roving professor teaches on site, interviews experts and the locals, facilitates discussion with these people through expanded chatrooms? Preparation for classes will not be repetitive for neither the professor nor the student: standard information will always be available and the professor and the student can concern themselves with keeping the course updated and dynamic by providing each other with live and experiential learning. Students of these courses can join life-long cohorts of self-learners, create academic communities that will keep them in touch with peers who share their same passions. The classroom becomes dynamic, exciting, a portal to a field of study that suddenly is a viable and intrinsical part of the world outside.
Here are the recommendations being made by the council for higher education accreditation already: set guidelines for measuring students performance in distance education courses; consider contact between students and professors, and the use of distance teaching techniques that have proven effective; make distance education a consideration when hiring and training faculty members, keep up to date with technology to assure that students dont have difficulty attending classes. The only question soon will be this: How can any student be denied these opportunities?
David, J. (1994). Realizing the promise of technology: The need for systemic education reform [23 paragraphs]. The American Center for the Study of Distance Education. [On-line]. Available: http://www.ed.gov/pubs/EdReformStudies/SysReforms/david1.html
Dede, C. (1997, Fall/Winter). Distance learning to distributed learning: Making the Transition [37 paragraphs]. NLII Viewpoint. [On-line]. Available: http://www.educause.edu/nlii/articles/dede.html
Binns, R. (1999, May). "Are You Ready for Me?" Converge, pp. 40.
This article needs major revisions before it can be published. It starts off well with the first paragraph, but then the author doesn't really do anything with the theme.
The article really rambles. It has no clear organizational structure or purpose. Excluding the first paragraph, you could randomly rearrange the paragraphs and not affect the content flow. It isn't clear who the intended audience is or what effect the author expects the article to have on the audience.
The article also needs a thorough edit. It has too many punctuation errors and trite phrases, along with some rather awkward sentence construction.
While the "Vision" section is the place for more ethereal contributions, I would not recommend publication of "University 2010: Are You Ready for Me?"
The question posed in the title is provocative enough, but the execution of the piece is in need of serious reworking and is written in a style that this reader found difficult to penetrate. Though running only 10 paragraphs in length, the piece contains over two dozen questions, none which are well answered. Indeed, the rhetorical question is over used as a device in this piece and the result is that while the author flies over some interesting territory, s/he never lands the planes, gets out and looks around with the detail that I would expect from a Technology Source article.
The visioning present in the piece (paragraph 8 & 9) does not seem sufficiently visionary--a combination of a laundry list of activities that are currently happening and some interesting, unanchored, unexplained assertions. For example, the notion that students would join some kind of lifelong learning cohort is provocative, but hazy.
The piece closes weakly with a set of recommendations pulled from some uncited accrediting body and presented without elaboration but with another rhetorical question ("How can any student be denied these opportunities?"). This conclusion seems like yet another attempt to use a rhetorical flourish rather than a cogent argument.
This is a very good piece. It is well-written. It is right-headed. And it reflects, I believe, both what's coming and the important issue: "And yet, we are still grappling with the challenge of using technology so that it isn't merely a vehicle for the mimicry of the traditional classroom, but allows for the learning process to be so fundamentally expanded that mere mimicry of what was past pedagogy becomes an affront to the learning potential of our students." But the following elaboration on the "purposes of education," it seems to me, is almost parodied by the conclusion that reflects enthusiasm mostly for the reincarnation of the traditional in distance education. That begging for acceptance of what should already be viewed as obsolete. The implications written into this article take us further, in other words, than does the conclusion. I recommend this for publication. But I also hope to see the conclusion rewritten or extended.