Recently, I was involved in a interesting discussion concerning the future of technology in higher education. It led me to do some reading (one of my favorite pieces is linked in a previous post) and a lot of thinking. The discussion largely went this way:
My friend brings up the fact that there is a trend towards taking classes online, and even taking an entire degree’s worth of classes at an online institute. (Do you still say “at” an institute, if it’s online?)
I note that it is a great idea, because under-utilizing the technology that we have at our fingertips is causing the price of education to continue to sky-rocket, in an age where anyone can have access to all of the information in the world, even on the go.
My friend agrees that the efficiency of using technology to educate is a plus, and the cost effectiveness is a definite pull for many; but at what cost to the educational landscape? “I think that the existence of a community of people studying and learning together at some sort of institution is indispensable.”
This quote of his almost sent me into a tizzy. He had no idea how laden with irony that statement is. The only thing that I could tell him was that he was, clearly, vastly underestimating the potential of the internet as (what it is) a networking tool. Fully functioning online classrooms are not a thing of the future. They exist, and work. In many schools, from middle school through post-grad, these online classrooms have actually been shown to increase productivity, and community.
The internet gives us the ability to create “a community of people studying and learning together,” for minimal cost, with maximum convenience. This community is the part of the “institution” that is “indispensable.”
I don’t see the future of education as having anything to do with “collegiate gothic” architecture, or 400 dollar hard-cover text books, when more and more people are working, shopping, and relaxing without leaving their homes, and doing all of this through computers, phones, and tablets. The school of thought to which my friend (hopefully, not anymore) subscribes is merely conservative for the sake of being conservative. This resistance to change is something that has no place in education. Education is change. If your education can’t keep up with the times, then it is doing you a disservice in a number of ways.