I. The Issue, where should we go with higher education?

In the future of higher education conversation I take the perspective that the future is now, or rather, about following the trends that are discernible now.  It less about what to expect in the future than it is about what should be happening now.  These future questions address 2 potential areas: technology enabled new possibilities and the weaknesses of current pedagogy and curriculum.

1 New possibilities enabled by technology include things like: distance-education, open source content and programing, and increased connectivity through social some.

2 Weaknesses of  current pedagogy and curriculum, (allowing potential university competitors or collaborators) is more interesting because it is about change, a much more difficult process.  It also includes critiques of social science and educational paradigms (such as education, sociology or business MBA programs) and who can potentially tap into areas of discontent, especially discontent over the value of education and continued rising costs.

This will take more than one post and could be a potential research project.  I’ll begin by looking at the critiques of pedagogy and curriculum.

II. The Critiques of the current system

(a) The New York Times has issued debate on teacher preparation.  The debate is wide ranging, but there is significant current around the idea that education degrees do little to prepare you for classroom skills you will need in real schools.

(b) Seth Godin has a similar take on business schools (another arm of the social sciences).  First, Seth say b schools are good for 3 things:

  1. screen for future employers
  2. to build a network
  3. and third

“(and least important) reason to go to business school is actually to learn something. And this is where traditional business schools really fail. The core curriculum at business schools is as close to irrelevant as you can imagine.”

Seth goes on to indicate that the following list is what people really need and that b schools do not supply:

  1. Finding, hiring, and managing supergreat people
  2. Embracing change and moving quickly
  3. Understanding and excelling at business development and at making deals with other companies
  4. Prioritizing tasks in a job that changes every day
  5. Selling — to people, to companies, and to markets

This is an interesting critique, although it’s bait oversimplified.  Seth has completed an alternative MBA program and I’m guessing that his program is more about changing pedagogy with a more open curriculum.  When you think that open source education may open a very large universe of potential curriculum and the new pedagogy is how you navigate through this universe.  It highlights the increasing importance in trust: in yourself, in student, in teachers, mentors, and in the educational aspects of the collaboration process.

(c) Henry Mintzberg (of MiGill University) suggest closing down MBA programs in a Harvard Business Ideacast podcast; (also available through itunes) that management can not be studied out of context and leads to too many false positive decisions (to use a research based metaphor).

III My Take –

(a) People need resources, now more than ever, and university resources are a potentially large source, but we need a longer time view.  If we are forced to leave the university for resources, it will be a hugh loss of potential resources.

(b) How can we devise a pedagogy that is future oriented?  You might learn something today, but you’ll need a reminder 10 years from now, or you’ll need to revisit it in 10 years, or you’ll need that support community in 10 years and all the years in between?  How can we pedagogically organize content (curriculum) so that it can be accessed, synthesized, and further developed in a just in time fashion?  (That last one sounds like a pedagogy and technological question.)  Organizing things must be part of it.  Social media must be part of it.  Teaching process (not content) must be part of it, but an organized layered approach.  Following a rote process will not do (see the post on Bill Starbuck), you need to understand what the process is doing so that it can be shaped appropriately to the context.

(c) We need to re-think what it means to be an educated person in many different fields.  A problem with many programs is a common problem, they think that they already know what to do, and maybe 30 years ago there was an illusion that they did indeed.  What is an educated person; what can they do; who can they become?

I’ll chew on that for a while.

It’s Time Change in Scientific Communication and Dissemination

Publishing Science on the Web by John Wilbanks of the Common Knowledge Blog who participates in the discussion concerning the future of scientific dissemination in the digital age:

. . . science is already a wiki if you look at it a certain way. It’s just a really, really inefficient one – the incremental edits are made in papers instead of wikispace, . . .  And the papers are written in a highly specialized form of text that demonstrates the expertise of the writer in the relevant domain, but can form a language barrier to scientists outside the domain.  . . .  How can we get to enough technical standards so that this kind of science can be harvested, aggregated, and mashed up by people and machines into a higher level of discipline traversal? . . .  But the language barrier among scientists is preserved – indeed, made worse – by the lack of knowledge interoperability at the machine level. It’s the Tower of Babel made digital.

Two really important issues in scientific communication and dissemination that are critical for technological progress and for evidence-based practice.  One is the organization of scientific findings scattered through various journals instead of collaborative consolidated instruments like wikis.  Time is the real information problem today and some form of wiki is the answer.  The second issue is knowledge interoperability.  Precise language is important in scientific communication, but I still get the feeling that current writing styles and vocabularies in many disciplines, when you look at function, have more to do with politics than communication.

Thanks to George Siemens for the point

Learning Needs Social Innovation, not just Technical Innovation

Reading about e-learning and social media, I get the feeling that people are trying to solve learning issues with technical applications.  While I believe that technology is a key enabler, learning is social at its core.  That means social innovation should come first.  Social media can be a great enabler, if its application is designed to facilitate interaction where social change has already taken place or at least where the ground is fertile for social change.

Here’s an example:

An individualistic idea of schooling led to a university model where people went to school to get knowledge into their heads and then went out into the world to practice and use that knowledge.  But not only is learning not anywhere near finished when you leave school, to be successful in practice many people need to learn everyday.  In short, the learning is never done!

Yes, we need knowledge from schools, but even more important we need a learning network.  This was my take-away from last falls connectivism course (CCK08).  Providing students with a network of knowers is more important than providing them with knowledge.  While many professors may maintain contact with graduates, what is needed is more.  It’s the expectation that graduates will leave school with a strong learning and practice network that includes strong bond to ties graduates back to their original contexts of learning and to ties schools to rich fields of practice and practitioners.  It’s a two way street.  Now in this type of context, social media can be a real enabler because it is focused on facilitating dynamic social innovation.

Response to Stephen Downes: Free the Facts!

Stephen Downes’ OL Weekly last Friday (1-24) contained a bit of a rant on Karl Popper this week.  It was an aside under the heading Free the Facts!  (Free the Fact (the article) advocates open access to research journals, a very worthy cause, but SD took exception to the view of science expressed.)  I disagree totally.  

I admit that Popper, like many philosophers, tends to be obtuse; writing more for other philosophers not scientists or the public.  But, I believe the gist of his argument (at least for scientists) is that: you can’t support a theory or proposition based solely on one or two studies.   You can prove that you specific proposition is false (at least usually with 95% certainly), but you can never be certain that your proposition really captured the actual cause in the correct fashion.  Many studies seem to act as if confirmation is true, but confirming propositional claims is a complex and broad-based task.  Confirmation should be based on bodies of work not individual studies.  It can also be supported with effect sizes in meta-analysis, with power reporting and with validation studies. (See Brualdi, 99, for a complete idea of what the concept of validity can entail.)

This viewpoint does many the translation of research to practice difficult, but it really was easy, we would have solved most of our pressing problems long ago.  Assuming an easy confirmation process is not helpful.  It makes the process even longer and erodes confidence in research efficacy.  (Think fashion in educational research as one example.)