Internet Portends Major Changes to Colleges, Universities

-By Warner Todd Huston

Over at Poynter.org, Howard Finberg has quite an interesting piece about the changing world of education -- he focusing specifically on educating future journalists.

Finberg and others have been ruminating on how e-learning will change the profession of education and of course they are ultimately right. But, I think some important factors were missed in the discussion, factors that will tend to put a dampener on these new ways to educate.

The question of change in our process of educating students has really ramped up with the ubiquity of technological innovation. Many education watchers imagine that, just as with brick-and-mortar businesses that have been affected so heavily by the Internet, so will in-person classrooms dwindle or go the way of the dodo bird as people turn to the Internet to find education while sitting in the comforts of their own home.

And who is to blame these futurists for imagining this brave new world of e-learning? After all, it would certainly be cheaper for the students to sign onto a website, listen to a lecture, or otherwise participate electronically, than have to re-locate to some new city and incur the major expenses associated with that effort. It would also be far cheaper for the school, no doubt.

Imagine how this would affect schools. Instead of having to go to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend Harvard, one might be able to attend over the Internet and do so from anywhere in the world.

Imagine further a famous professor teaching his class to hundreds of thousands of students at once, instead of being forced to see only the 20 or 30 students that can make their way to his classroom. Could this not create education superstars of a sort?

Just consider what Howard Jarvis has said as noted by Finberg.

It simply does not make sense for thousands of educators around the world to write and deliver the same lectures on, say, capillary action--most of them bad.

There would be fewer lecturers, perhaps? Fewer professors needed? Only the best would survive? The mediocre would go by the wayside?

Now that is progress!

Of course, there is a legitimate question about just how much one-on-one attention students need to facilitate proper learning, but that will all shake out as the new schemata of education is created, right?

It's all a leap forward, a wonderful new world, the shining future of e-learning, massive changes that will surely come in but eight or so years, so says Finberg.

But wait. Now we get to the part that none of these futurists have taken into account.

How much will these institutes of higher learning resist this change? Further, how will the U.S. government interfere in this shining new world of e-education?

After all, federal subsidies are based on students sitting in classrooms. How will federally subsidized loans be able to cope with students learning from home? And how much resistance will the government put up to such a massive change in the process? Probably a lot. The federal government is not prone to innovation, after all. It is slow, plodding, filled with red tape. New changes this drastic will never sit well with government.

Then there is the hidebound professoriate. These people run their world based on the power politics of the faculty room. If fewer of them are needed they will have less of a strength-in-numbers power base and that, they would think, would be an unwelcome change, indeed. Further, their model will change to a far more business-like atmosphere. They will have to appeal to individual students who will be their on-line customers. They will really have to serve their students instead of lord over them. To the , that professoriate will be quite another unwelcome change.

The education futurists are correct, of course. Change will come to the process of education and the Internet age, tele-conferencing, Skyping, computers, iPads, large screen monitors, wi-fi, all these things will be part of that massive change. But it isn't likely that any of this change will happen very quickly quite despite that we have the technology and know how to do it far sooner.

Forces resistant to this change will prove far more resilient than the forward looking imagine, sad to say.

As to teaching journalism, let's face it. With the massive layoffs and the death of the old model of journalism, there just won't be a need for large schools of journalism pumping out thousands of graduates every year. In their contracting world, the idea of migrating to an online world of education should be a natural.

With the job market collapsing for journalists there will eventually be fewer students choosing to go to journalism schools in the first place. Why learn a trade if you won’t be able to find a job in that trade? This changing market will likely see many schools of journalism close their doors entirely. It will simply be a matter of the market place making that decision for them

But this changing market for J-schools should free up those schools to change the way they teach. That is, if they can force the professors to make that change in a timely manner and if they can get the government to understand the need for that change.

Filed under: Budget, Business, Education

Leave a comment