“Technology, Education, and Learning Institutions in 2025” is a signature course that I will be teaching for the School of Undergraduate Studies at UT Austin in Fall 2012. Thus, I was excited to learn the other day that George Siemens and colleagues will be teaching an open course entitled The Current/Future State of Higher Education. While the audiences and purposes of these two course may differ, it’s exciting to know that other groups are thinking that it’s important to lead a course that asks participants to think critically about the potential futures and alternative narratives of education. Anyone can make predictions about the future of education (e.g., predictions about the demise of higher education institutions are a dime a dozen). Yet, it’s hard for newcomers to differentiate between wishful thinking, “real” change, incremental change, and potential change. Thus, a well-rounded understanding of educational systems, and the multiple purposes they serve, is important.
Signature courses at UT are interdisciplinary seminar courses for incoming students emphasizing “discussion, critical thinking, short research projects, student presentations, and writing on interdisciplinary topics of contemporary importance.” Importantly, all UT signature courses carry the Writing Flag, meaning that they must meet certain writing requirements in order to ensure that students hone in on their writing skills. To this end, students in this course will write papers describing potential and alternative educational futures and institutions. To instill a sense of commitment, responsibility, encouragement, and hope , I approached the editor of Educational Technology and asked if he was willing to work with me on dedicating a special issue on student’s informed perspectives on the future of education. While we discuss the future of education, I think it’ important to hear from students and learn from what they have to say. Since Educational Technology magazine goes to about 2,000 readers in more than 100 countries around the world, I think that this is a great way to get some of these voices in the mainstream. Our guiding prompt will be the following: If you were going to design an educational system of the future today, what would it look like? This is a question that others have asked as well (e.g., Levin, 2002)
This is how I described the course to potential students:
What will education look like in 2025? What role will technology play in future learning institutions? What will schools and universities look like? Will we invent new forms of education that reside outside of schools and universities? What is the purpose of education and how will it change in the next 10-15 years? Will we still use lectures halls? Will online education be the norm? Are we reaching a point where “anyone can learn anything from anyone else at any time?” Or, are Google, Facebook, and Twitter “infantilizing our minds,” distracting us from meaningful learning and purposeful living? Together, we will answer these questions. Just as societies, governments, and other social groups adapt and change over time, so do institutions of learning, the work that they do, and how they do that work. We live at a transient time for education, at a time where entrepreneurs, politicians, philanthropists, college professors, and university presidents are defining what education may look like in 2025. Together, we will investigate major trends influencing education, and understand how education and learning institutions are changing with the emergence of certain technologies, social behaviors, and cultural expectations.
I’ll be posting my syllabus, readings, videos, and additional learning resources here in due course.
Justin Reich asks: “What would you do with years of online discussion data?”
He explains: “[Emily] has access to a huge dataset from a for-profit college which includes student outcomes (graduate rates, annual re-enrollment, course completion), student demographic information, and transcripts from online discussion boards.”
And expands: “what could you do with the online transcripts that could teach you something about improving outcomes? How would you go about identifying practices in online learning environments that predicted better outcomes for students? And if you found those practices, could you understand them with enough granularity to make actionable suggestions for educators?”
Here’s what I think: I think it’s great that Justin is asking these questions. The idea of a lone scholar working by herself in an office and churning out papers is a relic of the past. My recommendation would be to publicize the research questions that you will be answering using that dataset, and then to anonymize and publish the data in the same way that biomedical researchers do. Figure out what you are interested in researching out of this dataset, but then make it available to others who may be able to pursue related research questions. Granted, colleges of education may not place a high value on the publication of datasets, but given that you might be providing the foundations for others to answer important research questions related to online education, I would argue that this should be considered an important scholarly contribution that our community should embrace.
Disclaimer: I am not interested in the dataset as the data do not appear to fit within my research interests/agenda.