Okay, I admit to being slow on the uptake. But after two ELI Conferences and a fair amount of reading of books, articles, and blogs over the last year, I’m beginning to believe that higher education may be on the leading edge of a paradigm shift that could be called University 2.0.
What is University 2.0? It’s not a change in content. Economics is still economics. Philosophy is still philosophy. U2.0 is about process: how teachers teach and how learners learn. It’s about changed expectations both for teachers and students. It’s about changing the locus of responsibility for learning. Now you might say, students have always been responsible for their own learning. Yes, but for most faculty (not all) the process was fairly narrowly defined. The instructor decided what content was worth learning. The instructor delivered that content through lecture and the chosen text. And students either learned it, his way, or they didn’t. It wasn’t until upper level courses or even graduate school that students were asked to question and make meaning of what they were learning. They may have been asked to question, but the ethos made it clear that the range of acceptable questions was pretty small. Again, I believe this was true of most courses, but not all.
Now, of course there’s a place for content and direct instruction. You can’t learn a foreign language without learning vocabulary and syntax; you can’t learn economics without learning something about economic principles. Not everything should be open to debate. But the big picture needs to be more open. That’s the way the world is now, and that’s what our students are coming to expect. Caveat: I’m not arguing that we should change our approach merely t0 satisfy students’ wants. Rather, I’m arguing that we should change because it is a better and increasingly necessary way to teach.
The new process (to the extent that I understand it) is more wide open: more sources of content, various modes of learning (active learning, collaborative learning, joint products, the student as “expert“), new tools for learning (blogs, wikis, flickr, podcasts and other social software). The instructor provides quality control, but teaches students to reflect on their learning from the first course. The instructor also teaches how to find appropriate sources of content, how to process that content, how to question and evaluate, how to synthesize new content, but in all of this the focus and ownership is with the student. Think about how medical care works–physicians know more about disease than the patient does and they provide advice and treatment, but it’s fundamentally the patient’s choice, values and life. The same thing should be true of education.
Is this paradigm shift happening? Yesterday, I mentioned this hypothesis to a senior colleague in another discipline whose scholarship and teaching I admire greatly. He looked at me, baffled, and said “what in the world are you talking about?”
Still I find this a compelling question or rather series of questions. What exactly does University 2.0 look like? What evidence is there that such an approach is more effective for learning? What are the consequences of getting onboard with this? What are the consequence of not getting on board? Do you have any answers to these questions?
I also really want to hear from those people who aren’t on board. Do they fundamentally believe that things aren’t changing? Are they blind to what’s going on in the world? Are they in denial? Do they see, but not understand how to make the transition? Academia is a tremendously conservative institution where change is concerned. If I’m right, I wonder how we can facilitate that change. Universities that “get it” early will flourish, and those that don’t will likely languish. As the cost of higher education continues to explode, where is the value added? I think the answer might be University 2.0.