Here's an interview with Don Tapscott where he tells us what's wrong with universities and why they need to become more student focused [The future of education: reboot required]. The main theme is that today's students are wise in the ways of the internet and that will force universities to change.
I think the net generation will be a key driver for change. They have the knowledge and tools to challenge the existing model, and I see a growing generational clash.There are several issues in this debate. They need to be sorted and clarified. First, many of the "old guard" faculty are among those who are most upset with the current system. At my university, they are the ones who are advocating change. Younger faculty in science departments just don't care about undergraduate education. They have much more important things on their minds. The situation isn't much different in the humanities except that there's a somewhat higher percentage of younger faculty calling for change. Many of them are postmodernists and the changes they're advocating aren't necessarily desirable.
I also think some administrations will recognize that the writing is on the wall.
If students can pass a course by never attending class and watching the lectures online, why should the student be restricted to only those courses available at that university? If it's online, why not choose from the courses offered at other universities. I also see a lot of the old guard faculty retiring soon. That will help generate fresh thinking.
Who is Don Tapscott and why is he an expert on university education? Here's what Wikipedia says [Don Tapscott].
Don Tapscott (born 1947) is a Canadian business executive, author, consultant and speaker based in Toronto, Ontario, specializing in business strategy, organizational transformation and the role of technology in business and society. Tapscott is chairman of business strategy think tank New Paradigm (now nGenera Insight), which he founded in 1993. Tapscott is also Adjunct Professor of Management at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.This brings me to a second point that needs clarification. People whose main concern is business and management aren't necessarily qualified to have an informed opinion on university education. That includes 99% of the faculty at the Rotman School of Management, here at the University of Toronto.
The third point that needs to be made is that there is widespread agreement that current university education is in bad shape. It should not be possible to skip lectures and still get an "A" in a course. It should not be possible to graduate with a degree when you have never physically attended a university. The fact that we are doing a bad job of teaching students how to think does not mean that we should abandon that goal and make it even easier for students to avoid intellectual challenges. We need to fix the problem, not surrender.
The fourth point concerns technological change. Tapscott is apparently one of the true believers when it comes to the internet and how it's going to change everything. I think he's wrong but that's not the point I want to make. The thing that annoys me the most is the assumption that universities are behind the times when it comes to technological change and that professors are luddites who don't know anything about computers and the internet.
There may be professors like that, but not in science or engineering departments. I suspect that they're rare in the humanities as well. This may come as a bit of a shock to Don Tapscott but some of us old fogies have been using computers for over forty years. We've been on the internet for thirty years. We know about electronic databases, listserves, social networks, webpages, and blogs. Some of us even have cellphones, iPads, and GPS—and we know how to use them. We have HD televisions, stereo systems that will blow your socks off, laptops, and—believe it or not—power windows in our cars.
We've been incorporating these technologies into our courses for over two decades. (That's before our entering class of students was born.) Our children, and the current crop of students, may be the first generation to grow up with personal computers and the internet but when they come to university they will be meeting the generation that invented those technologies.
Give us a bit of credit. We've been experimenting with new technologies long enough to know how they are affecting university education. We are not stupid. If they were capable of totally transforming university education then we would have discovered that by now. Fact is, these technologies have been around for decades and, while they are very useful supplements to education, they are not a panacea and they cannot replace everything that happens on a university campus.
Students need to be provoked, challenged, and stimulated. They need to be thrust into an environment that's outside of their comfort zone. They need to hear things they don't want to hear, even if it makes them angry. They need to see for themselves what kind of scholarship goes on at a university. They need to do a research project and that requires a mentor.
They need to meet graduate students and postdocs and professors who aren't teaching one of their courses. They need to play varsity sports, join the debating team, attend meetings of the student Secular Alliance, meet students from different cultures, protest, volunteer at the local hostel, play in the school orchestra.
This is all part of a university education and you can't do it by sitting in your bedroom at home staring at your monitor.
The article on the CBC News site makes reference to two videos. I'm including them here in order to provoke discussion. The first one is a classic example of the kind of superficial thinking that passes for knowledge among today's generation of students. Although that's not its intent, it illustrates perfectly what's wrong with university education. There's no evidence of critical thinking. The students are holding up sound bites of meaningless phrases.
The second one is similar except that the students are much younger. It's an example of brainwashing. They are "digital learners"—but what the heck does that mean? It doesn't mean a damn thing.