Higher Education is a Monolith

Higher Education in the United States is a monolith. I imagine the higher education system in the United States as the Titanic. Before the ship was struck and sank, I imagine there were many interesting conversations, people learning and their knowledge increasing. Even if not overwhelmed by the size and technology represented by the ship, I can see people simply sitting around dinner tables, or at the bar, debating politics, debating science or philosophy.

And then the ship strikes the infamous iceberg. We know the rest of the story.

Designers and engineers, captains and staff, caught in the currents of their own hubris, could not imagine their ship would fail, that their ship could be damaged, so much so the ship would sink. Unimaginable.

In the United States, I see higher education buying into their own hype, their own hubris.

Higher Education grew out of the need to develop thought, specifically engineers and scientists, architects and chemists, biologists and doctors. Higher Education was designed to address the deficiencies in the education background of our citizens, and to meet the needs of businesses and industries within the United States. Higher Education was also promoted as a means to ensure National Security.

In other words, intentions were good.

Structural implementation addressed the demand, though to be fair, implementation was sexist and racist. I say this because entry into the university systems was often not fair to women or minorities. Some universities were exceptions to my generalization, but overall, my comment stands.

Early success of colleges and universities were based on the fact these institutions contained the necessary knowledge. Public libraries while important starting places for learning were simply not the fortress of knowledge represented by colleges and universities. If someone wanted to know something to any great detail, one had no other choice but to attend college. History, language, biology, physics, engineering, most any field required college attendance. Of course, some jobs did not require a college education, such as auto mechanic or roofer, and some still do not require higher education today.

But, my point is, colleges and universities have historically been the reservoirs of knowledge because that is where the knowledge was located.

Today, that is becoming less the case.

The Internet is changing education, delivery, access, and content. Especially in Higher Education, access to the Internet is evolving our access to knowledge in every field. Internet sites such as CodeAcademy, Khan Academy, Open Culture, TeacherCast, and even YouTube are changing the delivery model, content, and technology of learning.

But, many in Higher Education resist change.

Higher Education promotes online education – at their own institutions, yet may not accept online course credit taken at other institutions. Furthermore, many colleges and universities either do not accept degrees from online universities or cast wary glances at those people who earned degrees from online universities, or from online programs offered by brick-and-mortar universities.

Higher Education fails to utilize homegrown talent or talents within their student body. On the one hand, Higher Education says they promote open learning and initiative; on the other hand, Higher Education turns its back upon faculty, staff, and students who have initiative, knowledge, and determination and ignore untapped potential.

The entire system of Higher Education once supported an insidious form of hazing. You would be tested, and tested, and tested in the hopes you would fail. It’s a filtering process, really, hazing. Hazing is still present, to some extent in the higher echelons of learning, at the doctoral level. Advisors who want changes without need simply because of their dislike for another advisor.

Higher Education organized itself into semesters and classes with specific meeting times and faculty became supervisors. In fact, Higher Education mimicked Business and Industry in both word and deed.

Both became monolithic and entrenched, behemoths in their respective sectors. The steel industry and the automobile industry and the textile industry in the United States were large, economically powerful, and firm in the belief of their invulnerability. How has that worked out?

Higher Education has been recalcitrant in evolving and modifying their education models. While the U.S. automobile industry seems to be finally getting a clue, at least Ford, Higher Education in the United States is not moving quickly enough to address challenges developing in this new Age of Knowledge.

Higher Education needs an deep introspective evaluation.

Are semesters really necessary? What is more important, meeting at a specific time each week? Or, is the conversation, content, and exposure to questioning the real need? Isn’t the process of learning and acquiring new tools really the goal?

What if education were more like a series of workshops, each a couple weeks long?

What if a student could really take a course at their own pace?

What if learning included all forms of media, video, games, lecture, reading, discussion boards, with or without a formal meeting time?

Shouldn’t we be thinking about destroying the box?

If you – and by “you” I mean if you are an instructor – how would you want someone to learn what you know? How would you really coach your material outside the confines of the rules and policies of your institution? How would, or how should, your students be exposed to the material they need to be knowledgeable about? How would you encourage your students to engage in thinking about the subject?

I read the Chronicle of Higher Education, Campus Technology, and a few other media sources. I am encouraged to some extent that some universities are taking baby-steps in the correct direction. But, having some experience with people at other universities, I find the same stories being shared.

I find showcase stories of “revolutionary” new ideas are simply that, a showcase example of someone who got permission to try something new. These pedagogical ideas, like using iPhone clicker apps in a classroom, make people think Higher Education is progressive, I tend to think otherwise. These “revolutionary ideas” are not being pursued aggressively enough, in my opinion. I would say, why is this a great idea? This is what is supposed to be going on! Using technology in the classroom should be mandatory, not an accolade.

Finally, something I have found very troubling.

Many colleges and universities do not have a Technology Implementation Plan. Colleges and universities often have long-range plans for capital growth, new buildings and such. They have plans for tracking graduates for fund-raising and asking for donations. They have plans for recruiting students.

They have no plans for addressing technological change or implementation of technology. Colleges and universities for the most part affect a form of Ad Hoc technology policies: “do what it takes to make it work,” or “we will cross that bridge when we get there.”

Education in the United States is not simply a matter of improving the livelihood of U.S. citizens and hoping they earn more money and pay their taxes.

Education is a matter of National Security. We need smart people supporting other smart people who create smart companies training smart people. And, its not simply about economic security, but in overall geopolitical security. People who can speak other languages, Russian, Korean, Chinese, and Arabic and interface with people from cultures representing these languages.

Imagine standing in a room or people and you are the only English-speaker. At some point, you’re going to become paranoid all of these people are talking about you. You’ll have to find someone who can translate if you want to say something. How can you be sure your conversation is being communicated correctly? How can you be sure they really aren’t talking about you?

Higher Education does not need to be the intellectual equivalent of the Titanic. One concern, though, is the people hired to run Higher Education are BA/BS, perhaps fresh out school with little experience and little interest in interacting with faculty other than to make sure the classrooms contain warm bodies.

Higher Education has the intellectual knowledge and creativity bank on-site not only to prevent collision and calamity but to devise solutions with which to avoid near-term concerns and chart for long-term success.

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