global learning. really.

Dr. Wayne Clugston, senior vice-president of corporate development with Bridgepoint Education, predicted that by 2020 higher education will be fully engaged in global entrepreneurial learning.

By this he means learning will extend far beyond classroom walls, drawing people together in more consumer-driven learning communities. Clugston believes co-constructed learning of this sort is driven by the following trends:

• Rapid technology development and innovation, such as speech and sight recognition.

• Knowledge expansion, with rapid obsolescence.

• An interconnected information economy, heavily influenced by India and China.

All of this requires universities to adapt rapidly, demonstrating and documenting relevant learning outcomes that satisfy regulatory demands while managing costs. This represents new challenges for all cabinet-level college administrators, particularly those involved in academic programs where technology becomes both the partner and the problem.

As the partner, social networking tools will enable more immediate issue and concern based learning with broader collaborative solutions. In this environment learning will require the “assembling” of knowledge, not so much from textbooks but from disaggregated units stored across the web.

Consider these developments, all reported recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

• Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, has charged his university technology officer with taking their leaning environments and reducing them to a single device that gives access to every text, every lecture and every journal in the library. (Already, the iPhone is a fully functional computer and web-browser that just happens to make phone calls. )

• More than 2,000 people have signed up to be informal students in an “open learning” online course on “Connective Knowledge” at University of Manitoba’s Learning Technologies Centre. Students can add to a course blog and a wiki, and read highlights on a daily e-mail newsletter. At least one day a week, everyone can tune in and ask questions during a multimedia Webcast.

•Two groups representing the nation’s public colleges are expanding a year-old system for providing comparable data on student test results from member institutions, calling it proof of their commitment to public accountability.

•The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has installed a machine in its library that can print out and bind any off-copyright book in its collection in no more than seven minutes, for $10.

In the face of such rapidly unfolding changes, the problems are huge. There is no place for the timid, and the role of technology in education is expanding exponentially. Philip Long, CIO at Yale University, says his role is no longer about managing technology as much as it is about managing transformation. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education he says “Our biggest impact as CIO’s comes from assisting people with that transformation rather than any specific technology.”

While the role of technology in higher education has been primarily about managing systems and network security, still vital concerns, it has now been ramped up to include envisioning and creating the infrastructure to support innovation in teaching, excellence in research and efficiency in administration.

For academic administrators, the promise of technology in education is empowering project-based, collaborative learning, not just for students but for everyone connected to the enterprise. But getting administrative and academic cultures to work together toward this goal is challenging. Says Long: “The problem is change management. And that’s what our jobs are largely becoming.”

For faculty this is all very threatening and academic administrators will have to devote a lot of energy to helping those working in technology departments to manage such change. Training is obsolete almost as fast as it occurs, and the transformational and management challenge is huge. While the slide projector didn’t change for decades, the tools available now change every few days.

Students also, despite all the talk of the “digital native,” have little understanding of the power these tools offer for collaboration in a classroom, much less across continents. Rarely can a freshman tell you what an rss feed is or describe and use a wiki. Elizabeth Losh, writing director of the humanities core course at the University of California at Irvine says “What passes for ‘media literacy’ now is often nothing more than teaching kids to make prepackaged PowerPoint presentations.”

Add regulatory demands, such as the provisions in the recently passed Higher Education Act to deploy “technology-based deterrents” to prevent copyright infringement, and increased transparency issues related to public accountability, technology become critical to the mission and the survival of higher education.

It also becomes very expensive.

Managing costs requires outsourcing functions such as email and student web pages, while at the same time exploring revenue streams such as leasing bandwidth, selling media content to alumni, and creating partnerships. This is especially important in global environments that open the door to corporate partnerships, joint ventures with charitable organizations and innovative social networks opportunities with communities that share the vision and mission of the university. The partnership between the academic and technology teams is essential and requires visionary leadership on both sides.

And all this has to occur while everyone’s inbox is already full. Ellen Kossek, a professor at Michigan State University, is the author of a book about navigating work-life boundaries: CEO of Me. She argues that while academics like the flexibility and opportunities technology offers, it eats into the time that must be reserved for reading and reflecting, a problem that can only be solved by focusing on core values.

In an environment where both academic and spiritual traditions value contemplation and creativity, all administrators must offer insight and provide models for managing the pace and the volume of change and innovation. As a filter, they create the focus and the vision necessary to manage the flood of possibilities.

But the task requires more than that. It requires an openness to grace. Clugston puts it this way: “True learning may involve a lot more than change, but it never consists of less than grasping what is given, and then, with that knowledge, reaching creatively toward undefined horizons.”

In higher education, then, technology is only partly about managing or empowering change. It is primarily about values, the values that frame a community and shape its purpose.

Nothing is good because it is new. Technology in higher education must be tamed as much as it must be unleashed. But as a tool that serves the greater good, innovation can be a channel of grace.

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One thought on “global learning. really.

  1. Anna says:

    I agree that technology is only partly about empowering change, and that it is primarily about values. At Coggno we’re more interested in what can be done with the technology–its power to transform society and generally influence what people are interested in.

    One demonstration of the mobilizing potential of online learning content is the sheer quantity of nonprofit organization websites. Nonprofits around the globe use the internet to fundraise, recruit volunteers, and provide learning content about their programs and social problems they are fighting to address.

    Or exchanges like this: A group of malaria researchers in a remote area of Kenya begins to benefit from free internet access to full-text articles from selected journals, offering in return answers to the publishers’ questions about the value of the journals’ learning content to their research. Technology-aided collaboration for the public good–that’s the future of technology I’d like to see.

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