The Metamorphosis of Higher Education

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On Tuesday 5/14/2019 I posted some thoughts on The Shape of Higher Ed to Come by Steven Mintz. Since then, Professor Mintz has posted The Right Model(s) for Higher Ed, in which he offers six possible directions for higher education. In addition, Joshua Kim offered some views on learning innovation which tie in with the evolution of higher education. Again, I’ll offer a few thoughts

The primary direction of higher education, at this time, is moving away from the traditional teacher-student lecture approach to a technology-dependent, student interactive environment, with little or no human instructor interaction. The arguments to support this movement are based on society’s Achilles heel, comfort and convenience. Making courses accessible 24-7 via online classrooms offers scheduling convenience and the comfort of a student’s preferred location, but is this education?   

Education is not simply a data exchange process. No matter how much data is available online, it is not information until it is integrated by the student. This internalization process transforms the student personally. The human element includes the emotional interaction with other human beings, not just the absorption of data. No amount of online, group discussion will replace the face-to-face interaction of student/teacher and student/student dialogue. If today’s obsession with texting teaches anything, detached digital communications undermine personal growth and humane dialogue.

Much of the emphasis on technology is driven by skills acquisition for jobs and careers. In addition, reduced time commitments are driving shorter term to certificate and degree completion. All of this undermines the definition of college credit for college completion. College course material is demanding intellectually and in terms of time commitment. There are no short cuts to deep learning. The depth requirements of college level courses exceed the skills-level demands of technical courses. (I have posted illustrative examples on my Education page, Pursuit of Knowledge, to identify the role of abstract reasoning in college mathematics)

The use of technology in education should be defined by faculty in each academic discipline. In applied fields, these faculty bear the responsibility of being informed by professionals in business and industry who apply their education on the job. As a member of SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) I incorporated technology into my pedagogy in mathematics courses that prepared future scientists and engineers.

Incorporating technology into non-STEM fields belongs to faculty only. Their academic discipline is focused on the personal growth of the student as a human being. It is the true value of college for society. This is the common good referred to in the AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure: Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.

Faculty who pursue personal and political agendas that undermine the common good are not protected by academic freedom and tenure.

I encourage readers to read the posts of Steven Mintz and Joshua Kim. Take some time to discuss higher education with family and friends. What do you value in education? Is higher education morphing into a butterfly or a digital moth?

As always, in the words of Edward R. Murrow, “Good night and good luck.”

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