Universities risk being left behind because of their inability to keep up-to-date and embrace modern technology.
The fact that most universities still rely on the outdated system of a tutor standing at the front of the class and lecturing to students (rather than working in a collaborative environment with the help of technology) goes a long way to explaining the failings of modern universities and why they’re in real danger of being left behind.
Consider the modern student – they have grown up in a digital era with the ability to research anything independently and learn from some of the greatest minds, typically for free, online, via blog posts, videos or other disseminated material.
Their modus operandi, even when interacting with friends, is to discover, share, converse and engage in real time using platforms optimised for such purposes (think Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc).
Compare this to the University system.
First and foremost, before in stepping foot in a classroom, students are burdened with life changing sums of debt they must then spend the next 20 years repaying. This is a slap in the face for generations used to free and on demand – free streaming of movies, free downloads of music etc.
They are expected to meekly accept the fact that the lecturer stood at the front of the class knows all, is the sage of all knowledge. And to make matters worse, they must studiously and diligently make notes from the monologues being shared so that when examination time comes they have enough short-term memory to be able to pass.
I’d argue that this style of learning lends itself to students and later employees that are incapable of independent freethinking and thought. It fosters and environment where students expect to be told how to think rather than analyse the situation independently.
In its current format, is this something we can allow to continue unabated? I believe not.
In every other area of life, technology is making huge strides. It’s about time that the university education system also began to embrace such technology.
In particular, care must be taken to foster a collaborative learning environment where students can attend classes to further drill down on concepts, and aid independent free thought. A great example of this is a “just in time” approach, where up to a few hours prior to the start of the lessons, students can submit their questions (arising as a result of independent learning), and the tutors can then spend their time dissecting and aiding any issues the class has struggled with.
In this fashion, rather than expect students to sit in a room and be lectured to, that same time is better spent encouraging discussion, debate and collaboration that the students themselves have requested, utilising technology that we already have on hand to help with this.
If the information is already available online (or can easily be made so), surely it makes much more sense to spend class time helping to work through any questions rather than sharing that readily available info? Wouldn’t that be a better use of both the students time, and the lecturers expertise?
As such, in my eyes at least, the issue is how do we use what we already have in the best possible way?
If and when we start using technology to its fullest, it will ensure a learning deeper than just the root level, and will help ensure concepts are actually learnt (and a true passion born), not a situation we currently see where info is memorized in order to pass an exam, then instantly forgotten.
There’s no doubt that this would contribute to a better experience for students, lecturers and employees too – win, win for all concerned