University 2.0?

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.

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5 Responses to University 2.0?

  1. I recently stumbled onto your blog and am happy I did. You model what I call good teaching strategies and you maintain an open posture (i.e., you appear to be more of a learner than a teacher, in the traditional sense).
    I have been writing along similar lines as your U2.0 thesis.
    However, I feel I am a bit more skeptical about the future. Universities in general will be one of the last bastions to adopt a student-centered approach. Why? Anybody with enough perserverence can become a professor; there are no pedagogical qualification exams. I have spoken in front of large faculty groups at my uni and posed the following “white elephant” questions: how many of you have ever taken a course on effective teaching and learning? How many of you have taken a course that focuses on how people learn?
    Until universities require their professorate to engage in coursework that focuses on teaching and learning strategies, no amount of 2.0 will make a difference.
    That said, I am actively working on building a program at my uni to require all graduate assistants and teaching assistants to participate in two to three seminars in effective teaching and learning courses where we go over all aspects of engaging students.
    And I am doing it not because anybody asked. I simply want to see you your vision of U2.0 come to life.


  2. Angela says:

    I’m not much of a blogger myself, but I am very much interested in your central points–which are, as I understand them, that how we define “education” and what constitutes “learning” are undergoing fundamental transformation in the academy. From Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies programs to the “Learner Centered” approach (as defined by Maryellen Weimer) to Team Teaching strategies for transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries to incorporating technologies as means to transcend other kinds of boundaries (between students; between students and faculty; between the classroom and the real world, etc.), teaching faculty are seeking new ways to assess our outcomes and how we achieve them. Under scrutiny are the processes by which students best achieve learning and our learning goals (how does one balance, for example, content and/or skills acquisition–communication, writing, public speaking, critical thinking–how do we define competence in each of these areas, and how do we seamlessly marry content-driven goals with skills-development goals–these are very important issues). This reconceptualization extends from “content” and “skills acquisition” to assessment, too. At stake is not just how we assess the success of our own courses, or how we can best assess student work/ quality of learning and expression; also at stake is the “teaching moment” that assessment can provide–that is, the opportunity to help students develop critical thinking skills by involving them in the process of assessment (a process which requires critical thinking).

    E-media and other kinds of instructional technologies really are the “Brave New World” in terms of providing endlessly adaptable tools in the construction (of University 2.0) process.

    The trouble is that creating the kinds of infrastructures require both risk, time, and resources. These are not insurmountable problems, but they can, at times, be considerable.

  3. Steve says:

    Academia is a strange entity where the assumption is that you know how to do your job (teaching) without any expectation that you’ve been trained in it. Most graduate programs are in research rather than teaching, so I can’t see them requiring pedagogy classes for the degree. I think that change will be more likely coming from the employer’s side. But perhaps more important than a requirement of courses would be a change in the culture of universities with some explicit discussion of what constitutes good teaching. Along with this should be greater opportunities for workshops and other training on the job.

  4. Gardner says:

    I myself do not want to take courses in pedagogy, nor do I want them to be required of my colleagues. Pedagogy, like every process in a school, is a means to an end. I want our society to talk about what “education” means, what “understanding” means, and what we mean by a community of learning that forms around experts but is not focused on them. I think that talk about pedagogy can and will degenerate just as quickly as talk about anything else in our society. The key is not methodology. The key is understanding. And understanding may be encouraged and demonstrated in many ways.

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