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The Good, The Bad, The Technology

by on May 8, 2013

The year 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the first call made on a “modern” cellular handset by Dr. Martin Cooper who at the time was working for Motorola. It is incredible to think about the speed that things have changed, and while I am still young and was not alive before this technology was released to the public, I can appreciate the changes that have come in my short lifetime. Such anniversaries should drive reflection on how far we have come and what positive and negative results have transpired. It is appropriate then, that on this anniversary debate is in full swing around the issue of exactly how technology is affecting higher education.

 Massive Open Online Courses, commonly referred to by their acronym of MOOC has seen rapid development in the past two years, developing from a fringe idea into credit bearing courses. Companies such as EdX and Coursera are striving to change the world of higher education. Coursera lists on their website that the goal of the company is to help shape a future where “…everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few.” These companies and others are pushing the boundaries of educational delivery and pedagogy, raising interesting questions and as of recently, passionate debate.

Much of 2012 and the start of 2013 was marked by a sharp growth in the use and acceptance of MOOCs. Articles were being written every week discussing the new agreements that were in the works and the development of credentials. Major institutions were seen jumping on board and making MOOCs part of their traditional programs in order to keep up with the growing trend and to deal with greater attention towards issues of access. All in all it looked like a banner year and things could only get better.

Recently there has been a growing clamor against the way that MOOCs and other large learning platforms are being introduced into higher education. Professors at San Jose State University rejected the idea of bringing in MOOCs to cover some credit courses for philosophy. From the point of view of the professors the danger is that the movement is driven by financial goals of the administration to cut back on teaching faculty by simply repackaging previously aired classes.

So what are we to do with these MOOCs? How are we to feel about online education? How should we feel about the impact of technology on education? There are a lot of zealots in the world from both sides of the issue. On May 8, 2013, The Chronicle of Higher Education published two countervailing stories: one on a recent gathering of scholars to talk about the “dark side” of technology developments, and one discussing how a partnership was allowing students to access high cost textbooks on a low cost MOOC budget. This dichotomy, while it may seem troubling, is actually the most desirable outcome.

 The core value of education, and the goal for higher education, is the development of critical thought; the blending of various view points in the creation of one’s own stance. The loud noise currently projecting from both sides of technology question serve the important purpose of presenting opposing views. 

The goal for everyone now is to start to ask the hard questions and work towards creating answers. Should classes go totally online? Do prepackaged courses undermine the diverse nature of education? To what degree should higher education be standardized and what role does technology play in that? How should technology impact classroom pedagogy? Most important, how does technology affect learning and how should we leverage or limit it to provide the most vibrant learning environment possible? This debate, if done right, will not take away from education, it will not even delay the implementation of advancements, it will simply help to produce well thought out and planned changes. After all, our students deserve it.

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