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Weekly Summary: Education Evolution in the Age of New Media

This week we dive into the discussion how education is changing with the rise of new media and how the education systems should change. In particular, we look at the point of view of two scholars, Cass Sunstein and Don Tapscott. Sunstein tells of potentially dangers of too much evolution and what we must do to avoid these perils in MyUniversity.com while Tapscott vehemently argues for how the system of higher education must adapt and change to the rise of new technology and new methods of learning in The Impending Demise of the University. Let look into what these two scholars think and said:

MyUniversity.com? Personalized Education and Personalized News by Cass Sunstein

Cass Sunstein looks into how education can be personalized for individuals. Sunstein states that personalization brings much efficacy in terms of learning more and faster and thereby makes education more efficient. Moreover, he explains that certain level of personalization is inherent in the education system in the very basic level of education such as students choosing which college they wish to attend. However, what Sunstein focuses on in his article is the level of personalization that education should be given. Sunstein argues that too much personalization can bring about a problem of “filtering” and make the society into fragmented heterogeneity without a binding force. Sunstein suggests that while personalization should be embraced, two requirements must be kept:

1) Unanticipated encounter: Being exposed to materials and knowledge that one would not have sought out individually under complete personalization.
2) Common experiences: Shared experiences among people to enable people to understand one another.

In order to explore this concept, Sunstein asks the readers to imagine a utopian world with complete personalization. During this thought experiment, he states that the feasibility of such world is the least of our worries with the rise of emerging media. Indeed, since the publication of this article in 2002, the world of today somewhat resembles Sunstein’s thought experiment. Yet, the differences between this thought experiment utopia and today’s society still exists. As Sunstein explains while the world has become more personalized, we are still able to experience “unanticipated encounter” and “common experiences”. In Sunstein’s example, he states that while more newspapers have become available and one may choose to read the newspaper that has the topic he is most interested in, he is still susceptible to being exposed to content he would otherwise not have encountered in that newspaper.

Sunstein states that in an over-personalized where individuals are nearly completely isolated from each other in terms of news and education can also cause the problem of reduced “public sphere”. Sunstein suggests that as the world becomes more personalized, we must keep the public forum doctrine to promote three important functions:

1) Speakers can have access to wide array of people. Sunstein shares examples that if one wants to speak out about high taxes or police brutality, existence of public forum helps them to share this opinion with many others.
2) Speakers can have general access not only to a heterogeneous group, but also to specific people and institutions with whom they have complaint.
3) The public forum doctrine ensures that the people will be exposed to wide variety of ideas and other members of the society.

In the new emerging media world, such public forums should be present, not just the specialized and isolated forums. Sunstein states that effects of isolated personalization can be especially traumatic in the case of education without proper control. As people inherent seek what is interesting to them, groups will become divided and polarized, leading to increased racial and cultural divide as well as political rifts. As a whole, Sunstein is for personalization, but only under an appropriate degree and not complete personalization.

The Impending Demise of University by Don Tapscott

Tapscott in The Impending Demise of University states while universities and colleges have the highest attendance than ever, yet they are losing their hold on the “monopoly” of higher education. More innately, Tapscott states that there exists a definite and clear disparity between the pedagogy defined by the instructor and one by the students. In the ages of digital, according to Tapscott, the students are no longer bound by the one-way street type of teaching the old pedagogy offered and are limitless and map-less in their pursuit of knowledge through the medium of Internet. (Tapscott also mentions that the universities have become too concentrated on research and less on education itself. However, I would personally argue that this is not a recent phenomenon and unrelated with emerging new media.)

Tapscott argues that “Industrial model of student mass production” must end and will end. He says the current pedagogy is a “broadcast learning” system where the instructor is the “broadcaster” and the students are the listeners. However, Tapscott points out the rise of technology and internet has enabled the students to tune into different broadcasts as the source of knowledge. Moreover, the new generations of students are adroit in their use of such medium and such method of learning. The teachers—“broadcasters”—must adapt to cater to these new students:

“They’re used to multi-tasking, and have learned to handle the information overload. They expect a two-way conversation. What’s more, growing up digital has encouraged this generation to be active and demanding enquirers. Rather than waiting for a trusted professor to tell them what’s going on, they find out on their own on everything from Google to Wikipedia.”

Tapscott states that universities have been the slowest to adapt as smaller liberal arts colleges are beginning to change and internet universities and classes are rising. In certain cases, there are new models of education being innovated. Tapscott shares an example of “Good Questions” program from Dr. Maria Terrell of Cornell, combining the web-based elements and in-class lectures. Students can ask warm-up questions before class and the professor can cater their class to address those questions (Very much like our class, I think). According to Tapscott, interactive learning allows for students to learn at their own pace and making direct input to what is being taught and therefore exhibits better efficacy.

As students find more channels to learn and find knowledge, Tapscott says that universities must adapt and that “universities should be places to learn, not to teach”. By doing so, he makes several challenges to different aspects of universities in order to become a place to learn:

1) Challenge to Teaching: Tapscott says teaching system should accommodate for next Geners, who are used to interactive learning and learning from each other in groups. New methods of pedagogy must be defined.
2) Challenge to the Revenue Model: classes in universities must differ from internet lectures and classes that can be had for free in order to justify its high prices.
3) Challenge to Credentialing: new method of credentialing must be determined to effectively measure the aptitude of university as a learning institution.
4) Challenge to the Campus: campuses should be able to offer a holistic package of education experience, in which students get together and think and learn together and ultimately enhance the learning experience.
5) Challenge to the Relationship of University to Other Institutions: Tapscott states that students should be able to learn not just from instructors of a particular university he is attending, but also from intellectuals from other institutions through the digital medium (not just through books).

In conclusion, Tapscott makes a bold statement that if the universities cannot adapt and change, they will perish.

My University.com, My Government.com: Is the Internet Really a Blessing for Democracy?: Presentation by Cass Sunstein

This is a talk at University of Michigan in which Sunstein discusses several of the points he made from the previous article. The article did seem somewhat ahead of his time, but this talk was held December 2008 and seems more relevant to today (he brings up Google News). In this presentation, Sunstein mentions additional experiments and meta-analysis that reveal striking effects of group polarization, and thereby stresses the dangers of over-personalization and “architecture of serendipity”.

First experiment was held in Colorado Springs, which leans conservative, and Boulder, which tends to be liberal. Participants in both cities were asked to give their views anonymously on three issues:

1) Should the US sign the international agreement to control the emission of greenhouse gases?
2) Should employers engage in race conscious affirmative action policies?
3) Should Colorado recognize same-sex civil union?

Following submission of their anonymous views on these topics, people engaged in discussion for 15 minutes. Then participants were asked to submit their view again in anonymous manner. According to Sunstein, the experiment revealed three interesting results:

1) After discussion group views were polarized and became more extreme.
2) Before discussion, internal diversity became existed but when examined after discussion, internal diversity disappeared.
3) The difference opinion of median between Colorado Springs and Boulder became dramatized.

The second example, Sunstein shared involved a meta analysis of Courts of Appeal in the U.S., which is comprised of three judges. Looking at historical judicial decision, the decisions are far more extreme and ideological when the panel is composed completely of Republican appointees or completely of Democrat appointees. For instance, Republican appointees vote pro-gay rights 14% in a 3R panel. Democrat judges vote pro-gay rights 100% in a 3D panel. Sunstein states that these percentages increased/decreased closer to 50% when the panel was mixed with both Democratic appointees and Republican appointees.

In the third example, 1,000 jury-eligible people in TX involved in the study. The participants were presented with asked to rank a hypothetical corporate misconduct on a scale of 0 to 6 and assign proper dollar amount of punishment. The median score in a group of six tends to be highly predictable measure of the median score of another group of six and were also in line with median American score. However, there were a lot of unpredictability on dollar value of punishment. In a follow-up study, instead of just submitting their score and monetary punishment value, the participants were grouped and asked to delivery a decision as a group after a discussion. According to Sunstein, there is a systematic severity shift: “people who are disturbed get more disturbed and people who were lenient became more lenient.” In other words, issues that had a median score of 5 become a 6 on the severity rank scale and issues that had a median score of 2 became 1. In addition, groups were systematically severe in terms of monetary punishment level. In 25% of the cases, the punishment level was at least as severe as the highest individual member’s punishment level before the discussion.

These examples stressed the point Sunstein made in the article about the dangers of group polarization. In order to prevent dramatic polarization, Sunstein suggests that “architecture of serendipity” must be put in place in education. The “architecture of serendipity” is essentially the two rules he suggested in the article of “unintended, un-chosen encounter with a person, a topic, or an argument” and “shared experience that unite people across differences”. Sunstein states that his ideas on public forum doctrine and implementation of architecture of serendipity in education system were inspired from Jane Jacob’s theory on urban public spaces in American cities. Sunstein believes that education system and Internet society can function like the urban public spaces that Jacobs described, serving as places in which people can meet others that differ not only in terms of looks but also in ideology and more importantly co-exist in harmony with them.

Sunstein points about that in the current blogsphere, political topics and views have become fragmented and polarized. Readers will tend to go from one blog representing one particular end of the political spectrum and move to another blog of similar content and political view, making oneself more extreme. One solution Sunstein suggests regarding this is that people start to practice more respectable linking to provide readers with means of becoming exposed to blogs and ideas that are not necessarily aligned with the current blog they are on. Sunstein states that the over personalization–through blogs or digital education–can be dangerous because of two factors:

1) People have natural tentativeness to reach conclusion on a given topic; however, ff given corroboration, people become extreme. Being exposed to only one view or side of a topic will push the people to the extremes.
2) Personalization of information and education brings about lack of exchange of information. In a filtered group, people will have chance to listen to only views that reinforce one view and will not have the chance to be exposed to other views.

In order to stress the danger of this, Sunstein shares a famous social conformity experiment. (He didn’t say, but I am pretty sure that it is by Solomon Asch). In this experiment people were given series of lines and were asked to choose on that is closest in length to a given line. The experiment session involved several people at the same time, but only one was a subject and others were confederates. When the confederates all chose a clearly wrong answer, the experiment subject also chose the wrong answer on 70% of the times despite the fact that the correct answer was very clear. Sunstein states that if social conformity is so powerful even when the answer is clear, on moral, political, and social topics, restricting oneself to only “personalized” views can make them conform to ideas that he/she might have otherwise thought too extreme.

Overall, Sunstein’s presentation is very much aligned with his article. However, in the presentation he even more strongly stresses the dangers of potential group polarization towards extremes and lack of exchange of information that can be caused to too much personalization. He does concede that in certain cases, the isolation through personalization and polarization may be a good thing as in the cases of anti-communist movement in the USSR or civil rights movement. However, it can also be the cause of birth of terrorists. He stresses that we must proceed with caution on the growing individual personalization through new media.

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9 Comments

  1. ElzbthMllr 07:27, Apr 19th, 10

    I think that Tapscott hits on a lot of key issues, but I think what is at the heart of all them is that “universities are finally losing their monopoly on higher learning”, and I don’t think they are going to just let it go nicely :) I think we will also run into a lot of cultural issues, where we see the resistance in certain areas, such as the fact that still having a degree from a certain university means something, it may just be a piece of paper, but I don’t think we are going to be at a point within the next few decades where we see such a rapid decline in the traditional structures of learning. My guess is that for disciplines that are more traditional, such as science, medicine, law, business, etc, will be the most resistant to this kind of change. It seems to me that they have the most to lose from this kind of shift away from the traditional models of learning and academia. Other disciplines however, like journalism have to be more innovative in the way they approach learning with students, simply because they have to or they will not succeed. There is some innovative stuff going on here at NYU also with our journalism department as an example with Jay Rosen and his Studio 20 program.

    I do think that something fundamentally good is coming out of the changes that universities are being forced to deal with, the increase in people’s desire to go to college, the thinking that people can gain knowledge in so many different ways, but I think of this own class as a particular example. Yes, the majority of what was assigned and that we read/watched or talked about is available online, could I have just read that all on my own, talked about it with friends and saved myself (or my work) a few thousand bucks? For me, the answer is clearly no, I need that structure, the guidelines are how to navigate the readings, and to pick out what is important etc. It’s a serious question though, especially with the rising cost of universities which makes so much of this learning prohibited for such a large group of people. I think there is a lot to be gained from the lecture style of learning sometimes in certain situations where it is appropriate, because they are the best in their field, because they are more knowledgeable than me about a situation etc, but I have always felt that the best teachers have been able to engage a classroom and have that interactive dynamic. For me, I go to learn from people who are experts, and to have them help me shape my ideas, yet I see, sometimes in my own classes, that this may be changing the style of how classes are taught/structured, etc. I actually think this is a really fascinating time to be studying education, and how technology has changed the way that we think.

    For me, I always make the case about learning how to do something, whether it’s writing well, or being able to comprehend what I’m reading, and that so much of what we learned in school is about finding out those structures. I mean, how is it different now when a kid asks, well why should I know XYZ when I can run to wikipedia and look it up, vs when I was in grade school, I didn’t understand the importance of learning long division, when I knew there would always be a calculator around? It’s just that the explosion of available information is so great, and I think that both of the readings this week are good to address what has changed from the student’s perspective as much as from the perspective of the university, or the educator that the university has hired to do a class. However, I do think that we have to talk about the digital divide, and these issues impact that. Is it elitist to say that the institution of universities are in a demise? Is it hopeful? What does it mean for people who haven’t traditionally had access, who couldn’t afford to go to college, etc. There’s also a lot to be said for the social aspect of colleges and universities, and understanding how that may or may not change given new models in education. So much our culture is built on the networks we establish in our fields while we are studying, how would that potentially change with a new system? I think that is something that Sunstein is talking about when he writes, “Without shared experiences, members of a heterogeneous society will have a difficult time addressing social problems, since people will find it increasingly hard to understand one another.” Again, I think we will see a real push back from universities who don’t want to lose the authority and hierarchy they have spent decades building. But we will see…

    Again, we’ve talked about this in class, but if Mushon had taught us remotely for the entire 15 weeks or whatever it was, and even if the technology had been totally perfect, would it have been the same? Or at least, a good enough replacement for actual in person learning? This is just one example, every single student would have been in a different room participating via webcams, and that would have added another element to it. What about students taking courses from different schools to make up their own major? These kinds of things don’t seem to be too far off in the future, at least in the ideas of people who think that this would benefit our current education system, but it’s hard to tell what a certain degree will be worth in the future, as well as how they will be structured. It will be interesting to watch!

  2. Alexandra 12:50, Apr 19th, 10

    I felt like Sunstein just tried to split the difference between two different views. He also assumes that students know exactly what they want and would be able to make an informed choice about what they are studying, and I’m sure that’s not the case for everyone. I was not persuaded by anything he wrote.

    Tapscott’s major assumption is that the “broadcaster” method of teaching is widespread and the only way to learn. NYU is a great example of how this is not the case. NYU is a huge school, yet we do have small classes. As with other large schools, the intro classes are large and as you specialize, you get to smaller classes. In general I thought he used a pretty broad brush to paint all universities the same way, and that’s never a good sign of a well thought through argument. Our class is exactly the opposite of the broadcast learning method and there are many other small classes like it, at NYU and other schools. His model of pedagogy is based on this one type of teaching, when there are obviously many.

    He makes predictions about the next generation of students, but of course we don’t know for sure what will happen when they grow up. Predictions are not facts, and generalizations are easy to make sound good. And I would argue with his claim about how this “new generation” is great at multi-tasking. There have been plenty of studies that show that the brain just doesn’t do multi-tasking. It can switch quickly from one task to another, but it really only does one thing at a time. Just because the computer, phone and TV are all on at the same time doesn’t mean you are absorbing content from all three simultaneously.

    His claim that educators should customize learning experiences for each of us, “one on one” would be completely exhausting and unsustainable for teachers. This too is an unrealistic claim.

    He also says that universities “cannot survive on lectures alone” – I don’t think that universities are trying to do that in any way. There is campus life, extra curricular activities, and classes where the format is not one-to-many, just to name a few alternatives.

    He also quotes the president of the University of Akron, asking why “a university student [should] be restricted to learning from the professors at the university he or she is attending.” Maybe because people like fewer choices. The college search and admissions process is extensive and exhausting, and I doubt many students want to constantly spend their time shopping for professors at other schools above and beyond the shopping time they spend at their own.

    In general I found both authors’ positions to be pretty weak.

  3. Ryan 14:21, Apr 19th, 10

    I always feel more depressed after I read about educational structures, institutions, and traditional vs. progressive pedagogues. I think it is because I have yet to find an actual job with the degrees that I have spent so much money on, or better put, have utilized other forms of payment – loans which place me in a ton of debt. To say that my education has been useless is wrong, however, I think its more a matter of whether or not I have retained what I learned or have applied what I learned. These weeks readings were interesting on many accounts.

    Personally, I thought Sunstein’s piece on personalized education was, well, kinda weak and hyperbolized opinion. I didn’t really see any gaping statistics or relevant facts to back up his trend or generalization of the personalization of education. I understand what he’s saying and would agree with how personalization or customizing one’s curriculum can be efficient, at the same time it could be deemed as fragmented and filtered. Thus, he expounds upon the concepts of unanticipated encounters and common experiences. Of course there needs to be a balance of commonality and individuality. Any extreme of these would be chaotic. For what we learn about that’s common, their needs to be a better way to engage the students’ motivation within the teaching methods of the teacher. Again, we probably don’t want to learn everything that we ‘have’ to or read everything/every article in the newspaper but sometimes it can be exciting to step out of our own personal affinities or comfort zones to stimulate our minds in a deeper ways.

    I thought Tapscott’s piece was well composed and articulated at the conflicting paradigms of old and new pedagogues and the systems that what we have been used to. Top universities are accredited to research because of the endowments that they receive because of the research, hence students want to go their because of their production of material with the top people in whatever field. Research takes money, grants, scholarships, and endowments help to fund this. It’s a system based off of incentives to produce valuable work. Thus, top universities receive the most money for research, which translates into those who teach others.

    I also think there is an over emphasis on broadcast/mass teaching in the forms of lectures and one way communication. It’s not like student’s don’t ask questions, or contribute to enriching the class or what’s being taught. True, lectures can be boring, but they don’t have to. It’s not just about the material, but ‘how’ the material is presented. This goes back to McCluhan’s the medium is the message concept. Also, I don’t know anything about X subject. So I need someone to teach me. However, I would argue that the best way of learning is through experimentation and discovery. This is why I feel the best teachers do not teach, but guide you along their own path of knowledge while allowing you to deviate and explore new possibilities and come up with your own knowledge. They don’t give you the answers, but provide you with the ‘tools’ to figure out the answers to your own questions.

    While the present digital environment has altered the way our generation and even older generations have learned in many ways, adapting to new trends and how people learn are very important. Still, tradition should not be thrown out the window completely. I think Tapscott addresses again one-way communication, and how this new generation of learners desire dialogue and discussion and learn better in groups or collectively sharing or collaborating with others than individually receiving, processing, and regurgitating data for testing purposes only. I think it is a combination of technology and pedagogy at the core and what’s happening is (sic) students are challenging more and more the traditional architecture of pedagogy but with it trying to come up with different ways of learning e.g. online classes or customized curricula (Gallatin School).

    I don’t think that big/top universities are vulnerable – people will still pay gratuitous amounts of money for higher education (depending on the area/subject e.g. medical, law, business, etc.) because the monetary system still dominates societies economical architecture of jobs. Why do we then pay people with higher degrees more money??? Computers definitely have the potential to change pedagogy – University of Phoenix online degree. Yet, I ask > is there a difference in value with an online degree than a traditional one or does it matter that you earned the title/degree?

    “Universities should be places to learn, not to teach” – Okay. Well, how do we learn without teaching or doing. The best teachers are the ones that instruct you in ways to take what you learn and can apply these lessons across all facets of life, both inside and outside of the classroom. To accomplish and achieve goals and to succeed in whatever one strives for are what define great teachers. And what’s most important of what defines a great teacher is his or her ability to be a great student. In other words, great teachers are great learners/students.

    I loved this >> “The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a child of the pleasure and benefit of discovery.” Maybe so, but without teaching we can’t discover everything on our own, we need others to help us to discover what we want/need to learn.

    Even though MIT is releasing all those free lectures, it’s because they can. Trust me, MIT is making that money! It is true what Tapscott says, “Universities, in other words, cannot survive on lectures alone.” However, I think his potential globalized online Wikinomics cannot sustain itself. Money is the key ingredient that would greatly affect this in a negative way.

    “Why, for example, are universities judged by the number of students they exclude, or by how much they spend? Why aren’t they judged by how well they teach, and at what price? Wishful thinking, I wish this were the case too, but the best researchers and experts are not always the best teachers (unfortunately). Teaching is an art that many dilute/bastardize into lecturing. There is much more than just spitting information at someone in hopes that they can retain it.

    Lastly, I don’t think universities will be changing dramatically anytime soon. For that to happen it would have to be with the combined effort of society itself in jobs and much more. Until something like the University of Phoenix beats out Harvard I don’t see much of the current/traditional modus operandi changing other than the inclusion of online teaching or personalized learning.

  4. Leslie 23:42, Apr 19th, 10

    I found myself agreeing with Sunstein and his thoughts that while personalization can be a great thing, it can also have some negative points to it. Going away to college and being put into unanticipated situations can be an important part of the college experience for many people. I can see how making more precise selections could potentially take away from this experience, especially if students begin to take more and more classes online.

    With Tapscott’s article, I can see how the traditional university is losing hold on the “monopoly” of educating, but I don’t see the institutions going anywhere or having to change too dramatically any time soon (although online colleges seem to be challenging the traditional educational institution). It’s great that you can get so many lectures for free online now, and that there’s so much more that’s at your finger tips. But, there’s a certain cache to a degree, which can help people get jobs and succeed in life. How long will it take for certain companies hiring employees to look past the need for a degree? Will they ever?

    I do think he makes a good point that maybe the traditional method of teaching is not the best way. Other ways should be looked into and experimented with, especially considering how the interactive digital world is changing how society learns and educates itself.

  5. juliette b 10:07, Apr 20th, 10

    This weeks readings seemed all the more interesting to me that I come from a french background.
    Ever since I have started my Masters program in the US I have been struck by the difference in dealing with education.
    Referring to Tapscott point I would say that in France universities are mostly a places to teach. The approach to education from a student’s point of view is much more passive. Students mostly go to the class sit and listen. This approach only works for highly motivated students that manage to make the most of the knowledge that is being transmitted to us. In this respect I think that new media could be a good way of making student actually produce content and participate to the class through out the weeks.

    I think that the American system is way better at challenging students and at making them responsible for the success of the class. That said, I also think that the system is too expensive. Very few people have access to graduate school for instance. While focusing on how new media could modify the content of class I think that American universities should also seize new media as the opportunity to make education more accessible.

  6. nadine 12:17, Apr 20th, 10

    @Juliette, I totally agree with you! France is deeply based on the broadcaster teaching model, where it’s the professor that holds all the wisdom, and you don’t have much to say as a student. It stands in complete contrast to the American model.
    However, as Tapscott, rather than a question of nationality, the future of education will be changed from the perspective of digital citizenship. The parameters of information sharing and production are changing worldwide, and I am very excited about the way it will impact universities- both in the United States and in France.
    @ Ryan: let’s hope that the new system will make education more affordable.
    In contrast to Sunstein fears, I don’t believe that this change will lead to an increased personalized system, but to a more OPEN system or to Sunstein’s ideal of public forum. Education is so expensive in the United States; in the end, there is little social mixity and diversity. It is essential to reduce the the cost of education (for both the individual student and the state)and make universities more accesible. Just to compare: one semester in Switzerland costs 1200 USD (of course, state subsidies are huge. I just want to compare the impact on studet diversity in the perspective of public forums).
    However, I am quite sceptical about the mass student system (in my Swiss seminars, we were between 20 and 40 students…)- discussion and interaction is the most important part of the learning process. In fact, our class is ideal!!! But would it be feasible with 25 students???
    I think the ideal university is a mixed system. I feel that in college, it is ok to have more mandatory and classic teaching courses, and when people have more experience, the system can shift towards a more decentralized and personalized system. Or is that just an old school philosophy?

  7. HoniehLayla 13:28, Apr 20th, 10

    Sunstein makes many valid points. It is beneficial for education to be catered to the student’s needs/wants and interests but it is important not to filter too deeply. This would cause society to become very fragmented and highly specialized. It is critical that within the framework of learning that shared experiences are included as well. This made me think of my undergraduate education. Most universities have the same curriculum for the first two years so that the students can form their own opinions on what they would like to specialize in their last two years.

    Tapscott also touches on some very important points. In my personal opinion, it is very rare to find that one on one education and it is true that professors are no more broadcasters than specialized educators. Universities are more focused on leading research and managing their reputations than education those who are funding these research programs.

  8. Jimena 18:55, Apr 25th, 10

    I think that Universities have always been institutions that have a strong power on social status, all the way from the Middle Ages. I don’t believe that is going to change—knowledge has always been power. But I do agree that the University is being challenged as never before by technology, and it is also having a hard time incorporating it into its pedagogical system.

    I think that economics play a vital role in this subject. The original vocation of the University (in the Middle Ages and Renaissance) was to be just that—as universal as possible. If we consider that in its original context, it makes a lot of sense: the more you knew of as many topics as possible, the better. In our days, the opposite is true: the more specialized your capacities, the better—and to do so, you must keep on paying for higher and higher scholarly grades that make you an ‘expert’ in very particular, small topics. I believe that specialization exists largely because of economic or ability has logically pushed the professional world into narrowing the fields of expertise. In general, I tend to agree much more with diversity and wide knowledge horizons, because they allow to interrelate ideas and topics and make creative connections between fields of study. In the early years of school, this is a basic necessity for development, but I think that also college and grad school require that openness. The excessive specialization has deepened the divide between sciences and humanities, which in turn has affected the educational system. For example, I think it’s terrible that since 1978, the only two areas on which Middle and High School students are examined to evaluate a school’s progress are Math and English—not taking into account Literature, History, Arts, etc. This in turn has caused schools to survive their budget cuts by eliminating arts classes entirely (at least in NY state). It might seem a far-fetched connection but I believe it is totally related—when you become more and more specialized in your field, the rest of the knowledge spectrum becomes completely irrelevant. Anyway, Dan raised an important question: where is the greater loss, in absolute specialization or in knowledge that’s so diluted that it loses the potential geniuses? I see academia as representing specialized teaching, and “general knowledge” as more related to ‘real life’. For me, the biggest trouble lies in the fact that academia is so detached from real life, and the consequence is that the very small percentage of the population that can reach higher education in any country (in relation with the enormous numbers of people without any formal education) are very far away from day-to-day problems, and it takes a long time for that knowledge to finally trickle down into the “street”, and for the feedback to tiptoe back to the classroom.

  9. Harris 05:50, Apr 29th, 10

    Although much has been said on this topic, posting late allows me to look at this debate, especially The Impending Demise of the University, in the new perspective set by one of our final readings by Catherine Frost. For her, exclusion is the primary site of change.

    “It may not be the people with the most extensive access or highest profile online” who will pose the challenges to the university that we talk about. It will be those “with limited access” to Western universities, “just enough to see what they are missing out on”, who will be compelled to figure out “pioneering new modes of social relations, meaning and engagement” including education.

    For many living in the third world, educational use of the internet is not a choice, but the only option.