Month: May 2010

The changing “delivery” of education

We have many conversations going on in the Pellissippi State community concerning what constitutes acceptable or effective or “real” college education. I came across an interesting article that adds fuel to the discussions, potentially boosting velocity in several directions. When you first start to read “How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education,” you might assume it is a whole-hearted endorsement of “delivering” education as a commodity via the Web. This assumption will likely be exacerbated by the realization that it is published via Fast Company’s Web site, i.e., a business publication.

Read further. You’ll find that the article observes the need for caution in that assumption through statements such as Brigham Young University’s David Wiley. Keep in mind that Wiley is one of the “architects of education 2.0.” He has written, “If universities can’t find the will to innovate and adapt to changes in the world around them, universities will be irrelevant by 2020.” Although the article predicts that unless higher education folks adapt, they will join newspaper chains and record stores in near-extinction, Wiley also makes it clear he speaks not of simple packaging and commoditizing.

“If you didn’t need human interaction and someone to answer your questions, then the library would never have evolved into the university,” Wiley says. “We all realize that content is just the first step.” In other words, education is more than the mere mastery of information. To truly educate yourself, you will always need a teacher. But the nature of those interactions may come in many forms. Let’s face it, the classroom itself was at one time an innovation, a way to deal with the need to connect teachers and students in larger numbers. Few can afford the luxury anymore of wandering among the hills in small groups of one teacher and four or five students engaging in Socratic dialogue.

The question remains, though, how to maintain the quality that makes education more than mere aggregation of information. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of answers to that question, you will likely find material in this article that will both delight you and enrage you.

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A teacher’s perspective of Second Life

Dr. Matthew Trevett-Smith, a visiting professor of performance and communication arts at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., says Second Life Provides Real-World Benefits. He’s an anthropologist with a real sense of how our subjects intermesh in a liberal arts education, and he sees SL providing a means of bridging the traditional challenge of teaching critical thinking skills and broadening outlook/experience with the modern challenge of reaching “digital natives” who “will turn to Google rather than visit the library, or search Wikipedia instead of asking for a reference librarian.”

Virtual worlds engage my students in higher-order intellectual activity by requiring them to make and defend judgments. Ultimately, they are left with more questions to answer, a key outcome of liberal arts education. And as they immerse themselves in another culture — even a virtual one — they have physical emotional reactions to what’s happening on their screen.

Dr. Trevett-Smith isn’t arguing for us to replace study-abroad trips or other forms of education with SL; rather, he simply points out that SL is another tool in our toolbox, one with benefits that may not be more apparent without some deeper exploration.

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