At the recent ETUG conference at UVic, I suddenly found myself pulled in as an unprepared participant for the final event of the conference. It was a friendly debate between the green team, arguing that “technology is an evolutionary change to traditional campus based classroom teaching and learning” and the orange team arguing that “technology is a radical change to how teaching and learning are delivered”. Midway through the debate, Grant Potter had to rush off from the orange team, and called me up to take his place. I suddenly found myself in the midst of arguing the radical side with comrades Scott Leslie and Amanda Coolidge, to whom I extend my sincerest apologies to. Of all the really smart people in the room who could have helped argue this position, you got stuck with me. Blame Grant.
My contributions to the cause consisted of a single glib quip in which, in true revolutionary fashion, I denounced the entire monetary system. I also might have said something about someday students choosing to revolt in their own way by not showing up at our institutions because they found them irrelevant, but other than that I was pretty well seat warming. Like most of my life, I am often a day late with the point. So let me try to extend the conversation and make a few ill-informed points I wish I had made while I had a mic in front of me.
Scott carried the bulk of the argument for the orange revolution. When asked about the higher ed alternative learners might begin to seek out, Scott said he believed we might see a growing importance in the role of guilds and professional organizations within a particular field, and I agree. While this has been traditionally centered around crafts and trades, there is no reason to believe this guild model couldn’t work in almost any field, where a learner who exhibits knowledge in a specific area is acknowledge by peers within that field, completely bypassing a third-party institution like a university or college. Expertise of the learner becomes recognized by the very people who are involved in that field. Why have an intermediary institution involved at all?
To bring technology into this, one of the ways in which this expertise can be determined is through the use of a digital tool, like an e-portfolio/blog, published openly on the web. Learners document their own journey of discovery and provide open evidence of that journey in the form of personal publishing, creation, and active participation within the community. You want to prove you know something? Then connect with the experts in that field and engage with them. The Internet is facilitating connections between those that know with those that want to know. People become practitioners in a field not because they earned a paper at a university, but because they are actively engaging with others who are involved in that field, and get recognized as a valued member of that community by the community.
Scott also talked of the role of the itinerant scholar as another way in which students may begin to forge ahead on their own. Smart teachers are already beginning to do this; to figure out how to pave their own way and realize they don’t need institutions to teach, they can do it themselves. The ones who have figured out how important it is to be open, public, authentic and engaged, pushing content out into open spaces and developing their own digital identity will become sought out by learners. When the learners start looking, the itinerant scholar is already there, waiting for them. Easy to find because they have been openly and actively participating and are recognized by others in the field as an expert.
This is happening already, where reputation and expertise is being converted into learning opportunities. Look at people like Salman Kahn and the Kahn Academy. The work of George Siemens and Stephen Downes with their MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) , where expertise and reputation built by being open and online is translating into thousands of learners wanting to take their course, sans any type of institutional credit.
These are the models that will win in the future. If I am a music student and want to become the best funk bass player in the world, do I take the music program at my local community college, or do I enroll in Funk U and get taught online by the greatest funk bassist in the history of music, Bootsy Collins? If I am a student and want to learn how to manage a professional sports team, do I enroll in a 4 year sports management program at my local uni that will cost me tens of thousands of dollars, or do I plop down a few bucks and buy shares in the English soccer club Ebbsfleet United, a team that is run by a self-organizing group who came together on the Internet, kicked in £50 each, and now own and run their own professional soccer club? Decisions about the club are thrashed about in their forums, and owners of the team are distributed around the world. What could give me more real life experience than running the entire club?
Finally, let’s not steampunk* ourselves and believe the technology in use today is the technology that we will use tomorrow. For example, there was a great deal of talk about how important physical presence and the importance of reading physical cues human beings give off during interactions. Well, true, but the advancements in visual communication has grown leaps and bounds, even in the past 5 years. You can’t buy a device these days that does not have a camera in it, and free tools like Skype make those sci-fi video phone calls of 50 years ago reality today. Already I can augment my reality with my cell phone. How much longer will it be before I have the ability to interact with people in a virtual reality space and have it feel like I am physically present with them? If the most valuable selling point of a higher ed experience is the ability to physically bring people together, then higher ed is truly in trouble. That crazy holodeck thing is pretty damn close.
I don’t know if any of this supports the point that “technology is a radical change to how teaching and learning are delivered”, but I needed to do a post-session brain dump of things that were rattling in my head after the debate. If you made it to the end, thank you. And I should end by saying there were lots of laughs in the debate and it was a fantastic way to cap off what was a really wonderful conference – one of the best ETUG’s I have attended. The videos from the sessions will be posted any day now.
* I am not sure if this is the correct way to use the term “steampunk“, but the Robida steampunk I learned about at Northern Voice a few weeks ago seems to fit this use – the shortsighted belief that the dominate technology of the day (in Robida’s case, steam) would be the dominate technology of the future since no other alternative (electricity, gas, or nuclear power) could even be imagined.
Photo credit: I am here for the learning revolution from Wesley Fryer used under Creative Commons license.