"... Iuvenetus Summus!" by Flickr user Poldavo (Alex)
Andrea Jarrell drew my attention to a piece in yesterday’s Washington Post by former Howard Dean Internet wunderkind Zephyr Teachout.
Both newspapers and universities have traditionally relied on selling hard-to-come-by information. Newspapers touted advertising space next to breaking news, but now that advertisers find their customers on Craigslist and Cars.com, the main source of reporters’ pay is vanishing. Colleges also sell information, with a slightly different promise — a degree, a better job and access to brilliant minds. As with newspapers, some of these features are now available elsewhere. A student can already access videotaped lectures, full courses and openly available syllabuses online. And in five or 10 years, the curious 18- (or 54-) year-old will be able to find dozens of quality online classes, complete with take-it-yourself tests, a bulletin board populated by other “students,” and links to free academic literature. . . .
Because the current college system, like the newspaper industry, has built-in redundancies, new Internet efficiencies will lead to fewer researchers and professors. . . . [A]t noon on any given day, hundreds of university professors are teaching introductory Sociology 101. The Internet makes it harder to justify these redundancies. In the future, a handful of Soc. 101 lectures will be videotaped and taught across the United States. When this happens — be it in 10 years or 20 — we will see a structural disintegration in the academy akin to that in newspapers now. The typical 2030 faculty will likely be a collection of adjuncts alone in their apartments, using recycled syllabuses and administering multiple-choice tests from afar.
So how should we think about this? Students who would never have had access to great courses or minds are already able to find learning online that was unimaginable in the last century.
I reproduced a fair amount of the piece because I believe it is an important point to grasp fully. The institutional structures of academe are poised to undergo profound upheavals. This is due to a confluence of social forces, not the least of which is the general shift to a citizen-centric world in which people demand that institutions and organizations conform to their priorities and needs, not vice-versa.
Just as with the journalism world, we do not yet know exactly how this will play out, though we can sense the general contours. It’s possible that the education of the future will be deeply self-directed, as Teachout describes.
However, most of our prognostications are still rooted in what we believe people need or want from institutions. For instance, the above vision of college presupposes that people come to campus to seek “a degree, a better job and access to brilliant minds” from higher education. Certainly, people do seek those things.
However, like many institutions, there’s something more that people get that they sometimes do not realize they are getting. These elements often go overlooked in our talks about the future.
In the case of newspapers, it is (among other things) serendipity and an editorial eye: There are editors concerned with making sure I have the opportunity to see things I might not have seen otherwise, and overall ensuring there is consistent quality.
In the case of universities, the “more” may be a pedagogy rooted in a day-in, day-out experience. This is left out of many discussions of what higher education might “look like” as the future unfolds. Our conversations typically assume that a “student” is really a “consumer” of education.
But the pedagogy of campus does not just impart knowledge. It imparts practice, too. It forges habits of thought and attitude. It creates students. Many of the methods that higher education uses are ones that people might not seek out if they can pick and choose their program at will — just as an example, many core course requirements.
Where, then, will people seeking education find this pedagogy? Like many things that used to be taught earlier, maybe they’ll be taken to the workplace. For many people, their first encounter with someone telling them “no” is in their first job. Similarly, in a world where people create their own education, it may be that the first time people really learn how to organize their thoughts across subjects (which is the kind of thing many professional settings require) is in the workplace.
This suggests to me that the role of mentorship — or apprenticeship — will only grow in importance. Managers already know they often need to jump-start new employees. They may need to devote even more thought to first-year experiences.
But in what other ways can we convey habits that require practice over time, sometimes over the in-the-moment objections of our subjects? This has been one of the roles of some institutions in public life. With what will we replace them?