Broken Higher Education?

In an email exchange with Bryan Alexander yesterday I confessed that I dispair of formal education –its short-sightedness, hide-boundness, bloated pomposities… a familiar litany. There’s plenty of grist for that mill in recent postings to blogs I’ve been following.

Alex Halavais relates a sad tale of administrative mindlessness, all too common on campuses:

We have a new “mobile classroom” for the School of Informatics lab, consisting of a gaggle of tablet PCs for classroom use. However, unlike some mobile classrooms, we have neither a cart nor a wireless hub to allow for this to be wheeled into a classroom. Central computing won’t allow rogue wireless hubs.

The problem is that they also have decided not to provide access to the wireless network in the classrooms. The reason: they say that professors didn’t want students to have access. That they found email checking too distracting…

Cutting off wireless in the classroom is not a pedagogically-driven decision, it is an indication of how broken higher education is right now.

Konrad Glogowski’s Blog of Proximal Development offers a sunnier take on student activity, but concludes with a quote from George Siemens that rings some of the same changes:

…classroom blogging is primarily about responding to texts and not producing them… blogging allows students to think through texts and ideas, that it enables them to use their own writing and that of their peers as a cognitive tool.

This approach is very new. Our students are used to the transmission model of education and have never been told that writing helps process and synthesize ideas or that we learn best when we write and have to defend, reorganize, refine, and further develop our thoughts. They have never been told that interacting with texts composed by others can be a very effective way of thinking through a problem. George Siemens is right: “Our most limiting challenge is our existing views of learning.”

So where’s the hope? Stephen Downes offers what one of his critics (Stuart Yeates) disparages as “a radically different method of distributing resources in education”, detailed in any number of postings and talks available on the Web, via Stephen’s Web, and centered upon the notions of Learning Networks and Personal Learning environments. But how to get those who should hear what Stephen Downes is articulating to commit the time to listening/reading/thinking about what he’s saying? Snagging irresistable snippets is one possibility, and I have a few bits from his recent presentation to the Open Source for Education in Europe conference in Heerlen, Netherlands. If there are any Information Architects out there, these should be captivating enough to encourage a listen to the whole talk: