Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Virtual University


Since 2001, a growing movement -- from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, and hundreds of other universities worldwide to insurgent bloggers and entrepreneurs barely out of school themselves -- is looking to social media to transform higher education. They're releasing educational content for free to the world and enlisting computers as tutors. Google has scanned and digitized 7 million books. Wikipedia users have created the world's largest encyclopedia. YouTube Edu and iTunes U have made video and audio lectures by the best professors in the country available for free.

The face-to-face learning experience, like the live concert experience, remains inimitable. Research shows that, at its best, hybrid learning beats both online-only and classroom-only approaches. Learners can take in and retain more content faster and more easily, form strong mentoring and teamwork relationships, grow into self-directed, creative problem solvers, and publish portfolios of meaningful work that help jobs find them. These innovations hold out the tantalizing possibility of beating the cost disease while meeting the world's demand for higher education.

As exhilarating as this future sounds for students, there is plenty of anxiety about the transition. "Thinking Big in a Crisis" was the title of a summer 2009 higher-education policy summit in Washington, D.C., featuring representatives from the worlds of journalism and architecture sharing war stories about the scary impact of the Web on existing business models. Later that summer, I attended an Open Education conference in Vancouver titled "Crossing the Chasm." The pace of transformation is uneven. Existing institutions don't want to give up their authority, nor faculty their jobs. Even among early adopters, there's a divide over basic issues: Some see an economic opportunity, while others are eager to spread free education; some want the university to absorb the new information technologies, while others see the digital age absorbing the universities.
Highly recommend reading the entire article (also especially interesting is the author's comparison of "bundled services" in the newspaper and university paradigms).

I agree that a "virtual" classroom wouldn't hold the same intensity of an actual classroom when it comes to learning in general, but something the author only briefly mentions here but I think is a larger part of this, moving forward: the a la carte degree.

Think "technical college" computer or business training classes combined with the "$.99 per song or $9.99 for a full album" features of itunes purchasing, as an off the top of my head example.

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