Monday, August 13, 2012

The Future Is Now?



Not long ago, I friend of mine who teaches English here at the University of Richmond asked me “is it possible that we are all in the buggy whip business and we don’t even know it?”

In other words, has education changed so quickly and so dramatically that many of us are going to get left behind?  (or, have already been left behind?)

It is easy to dismiss that idea (because we want to dismiss that idea). Of course, the times are changing. Everyone can obviously see in the newspapers, television, and Internet that the world of education is evolving. But there will always be room in this world for the kind of college teaching that you and I do. The core of a college education has not really changed much since I was a freshman in 1966. Some version of that model will surely continue on forever. Surely it is sustainable? Surely?

Or maybe not.

A friend of mine here at Richmond sent me a link to two videos at www.epic2020.org. I only watched the first one (I’m in the middle of preparing to do some teaching today and the second one seems similar). But the first one alone presented a rather unbelievable (but fascinating) vision of the near term future of college education: A lot more people being taught a lot more cheaply (and possible taught a lot better).

I personally don’t think the future will roll out like this (especially not so quickly). I just think the actual learning process is more complex than the one portrayed here. But I have always said “any area of the world where there is both a lot of money and a lot of technology will draw in a lot of smart people who want to invent new ways to do things (and get that money).” So, I believe, there will be change and there will be a lot of it. And it will be soon.

For a number of years now, I have been asking the following question at teaching presentations that I make:   "What would happen at your university if Google announced tomorrow that it had hired the entire faculty from Harvard and it was going to start providing a Harvard-level education for an infinite number of people for a flat $10,000 per year?   And, given the amount of money that would bring in, why wouldn't Google do that?"

The best answer that I ever got to that question of what would happen was:   "The president of our school would break down and cry."
Watch that first video and tell me what you think.

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