e-learning and a changing collegiate culture

November 29th, 2007  |  Published in address

Online classes were just emerging as I left college.  There was a piece on Morning Edition this morning about the technology and trends in general and an instance of them at on University of Illinois branch.  I think this technology is inevitable and it does have some egalitarian advantages, as the president of the University of Illinois system state:

“But let’s be honest, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the world who don’t have the privilege of earning their education by leaving home, giving up their job, leaving the family and living on one of these campuses,” White said.

Still, there are also implications for a trend that is apparent even with living in a college town and meeting a lot of students on tour.  The idea of a university as a forum and a place where you might get exposed to unexpected ideas or ideas across disciplines is quickly eroding.  Technology plays a role in furthering this cultural shift.  As one professor says:

“But I can assure you that the next generation of students are ’24/7 students’ that want stuff right now. They don’t want to come to your class and listen to a professor lecture and tell funny stories,” Mims said. “They want just what they need to succeed in that class and get a job and be successful in life.”

I did a fundraising event for Pages to Prisoners in partnership with a local multi-cultural sorority.  The sorority members made a presentation about prison and education issues, and one woman read an article about the Bard Prison Initiative, a program that allows incarcerated people in New York get a liberal arts college degree.  When one of the inmates who was participating in the program was asked why it was important for inmates to receive a liberal arts education as opposed to vocational training, the man said that while job training could teach you how to do a specific job, the Bard education that he was getting through the program was teaching him how to think.

I fear that the “I want what I think I want when I want it” collegian is going to further erode the value of knowledge and discourse in culture.

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