What is the role of the university in the digital age?

This video really makes me homesick for South Korea. Having lived there for four years, I’ll probably always have a soft spot for the country (and its neighbour to the North where I spent a fascinating week locked inside). I love how Tesco have  used the internet and technology to bring its stores to the places people gather and interact.  My question how do we the same to the world to education?

In some ways I already am.

I’m completing my teaching diploma via distance meaning I can study when I want and where I want. If I feel like spending the afternoon having a paddle board lesson, I can. If I’m going away on holiday, so long as I have access to an internet connection my studies don’t have to suffer. My university’s placement office has done a fantastic job of ensuring that in both my teaching experiences I have ended up with my first choice of schools. In short I’ve tailored my higher education to fit my needs rather than having to work my life around institutional demands. I’m guessing that as time goes by more students will making the same demands of our institutions.

How long will be before more students give up on the lecture-based model, which is the staple of undergraduate teaching, will last? Do universities really need to invest in large lecture halls when a student can access the best minds on the planet via podcast or you tube? What place does higher education have in the digital age?

1. Social connections

Alongside learning the theorists great works and how to write essays, perhaps the most useful part of my undergraduate degree was making connections with people who have turned out to be life-long friends. I also had access to some amazing lecturers during my time at university. The best course I have taken in my university career was a Women in Politics where our lecturer decided we would spend out class time on the grounds of Old Government House discussing  the likes Mary Wollestonecraft, Harriete Mill and Bell Hocks under trees.

2. Credientaling

In order to enter a lot of professions, you need the piece of paper to say that you have the requisite skills and knowledge to be a doctor/lawyer/teacher/engineer/pharmacist etc. Generally the only place you can gain both the knowledge and piece of paper is at university.

3. Local content

I would argue that perhaps one of the buffers that universities have against the digitalisation is that institutions are important repositories of local expertise. There would be a lot of content in New Zealand teacher education that is irrelevant to overseas educators conversely gaining a teaching qualification in another jurisdiction might leave me with significant gaps in my knowledge to operate effectively within a New Zealand context.

In my case my current foray into  the world of education serves one purpose: credientialing. In order to teach in classrooms, I need to fill some gaps in my knowledge and get the piece of paper saying I have done so. I haven’t made as many friends within my course as I did the last time around. However I have a small group of friends based in Auckland doing the course and an awesome online Personal Learning Network. A lot of my network have no connection at all with the university though some may have graduated from there, I think this is perhaps the most powerful aspect of online learning, the capacity for learning to take place outside of not only classrooms and cities but borders as well.

My main reason for choosing a New Zealand-based university is because I’m a New Zealand citizen which makes it a lot more cost-effective place to gain a qualification due to (relatively) cheap tuition and now that I am officially old I also get a student allowance. However globalisation is making people’s lives a lot more fluid. I’ve lived in three countries during my lifetime and there’s a chance I’ll live in more.

My main criticism would be that the institution  is still relying very much on  education 1.0 models. A lot of the information is hidden behind digital gates, the platforms that the course uses aren’t ones that students use or for that matter like. While some lecturers have been great about using online forums to interact with students, with others it feels like the content was cut and pasted from lecture notes and that’s all the interaction there is. There’s not much use of you tube nor of social media. Simply put it feels like the university isn’t part of the space I inhabit as a digital citizen. That’s not a good place for an institution to be in, yet I know that my university isn’t alone. But perhaps all educators, no matter the age of the students, need to ask ourselves this question: if your students can get their answers from somewhere else, what purpose do you have in their lives?

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