Is Higher Education “Future Ready?”
“Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time.” – Hebrew Proverb
At the White House last week, President Obama along with Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other top staff, met with 110 district superintendents who pledged to make their school districts “Future Ready.” Future Ready is a commitment to ConnectED, an effort to enrich K-12 education by providing greater access to broadband internet services as well as access to rich digital content. Under ConnectED, 99% of American students will have access to next-gen broadband services by 2017.
Moreover, this initiative seeks to develop the necessary “human capacity, the digital materials, and device access to use this increased bandwidth and technology effectively.” Boiled down, it means access to free course content for students and free professional development resources for teachers and administrators. The idea is to build a digital and blended learning environment created by teachers who will know how to effectively use this technology to achieve the kind of student success and outcomes that every student, parent, and citizen of America expects and deserves.
There is a big gap between connecting schools to the Internet and providing rich, interactive blended learning. But we applaud the effort. It’s the right thing to do. Most of these students are connected to the Internet in their homes by the time they are 3 or 4 years old. It only makes sense to do the same in their schools.
Our only question is this: What about Higher Ed?
In his recent Washington Post article, Donn Davis wrote that “higher education is the last segment of our economy that is largely all-analog.” (Full disclosure, Donn is an investor in Echo360 and a member of our Board of Directors). He goes on to say that it is “ironic that the population that is the most digital savvy does not have access to technology to help them learn” at least at the higher education level.
Universities know how to connect to the Internet. Where they lag behind is in the ability to serve up digital course content so that students can access lectures and presentations anytime and anywhere. Students can watch every episode of “The Walking Dead” online, but they may not be able to view last week’s Chemistry 101 lecture. It’s not just a matter of convenience. Today’s student is different, likely older, and may even be working full-time. For these students, online course content is a necessity.
There is a glimmer of hope. Just in the past month, 11 of the largest public research universities joined together to form The University Innovation Alliance (UIA). Its goal is to drive innovation through the use of technology to serve more students at a sustainable cost. This includes improving the learning experience for students.
There are also instructors who can serve as leaders to show their peers that technology is not the enemy, but a powerful ally when used effectively. Teachers such as Dr. Melissa Gross from the University of Michigan and Dr. Russell Mumper from the University of North Carolina completely restructured their courses and in the end were able to engage and connect with their students as well as improve grades and performance. There are many more teachers like them out there. What we need to do is share their stories so that others may learn from them, create opportunities for networking and mentorship, and train instructors in the effective use of the technology of the 21st century.
We are living in a time when the value of higher education is being questioned by students and parents alike. Some pundits, such as Harvard management professor Dr. Clayton Christensen even believe that half of the universities in America will be bankrupt in the next 15 years. The status quo is no longer good enough. Higher education must also pledge to be future ready by investing in technology that helps students learn and improves the learning experience in the classroom, wherever that may be. They must also look for ways to deliver courses more efficiently to help reduce spiraling tuition costs. Without a corresponding commitment from the higher education sector, the effort spent at the K-12 level will be for naught.