Higher education and Web 2.0

June 19, 2008, 7:39 am

Martin Weller of the UK’s Open University notes in this blog posting that there is an emerging cultural conflict between the world of higher education and the world of Web 2.0:

[T]he challenge is this – when learners have been accustomed to very facilitative, usable, personalisable and adaptive tools both for learning and socialising, why will they accept standardised, unintuitive, clumsy and out of date tools in formal education they are paying for? It won’t be a dramatic revolution (students accept lower physical accommodation standards when they leave home for university after all), but instead there will be a quiet migration. The monolithic LMSs will be deserted, digital tumbleweed blowing down their forums. Students will abandon these in favour of their tools, the back channel will grow and it will be constituted from content and communication technologies that don’t require a training course to understand and that come with a ready made community.

It’s difficult to say whether how accurate this is, given that students’ knowledge of, and ability to use, those tools is questionable at best. But I think Weller is right that students — faculty, too — are increasingly aware of and irritated by the clumsiness and inflexibility of the tech tools that higher education currently uses. It wouldn’t bother me at all if the Angels and Blackboards of the world were left behind in favor of simpler, more decentralized tools that can evolve throughout a semester according to the needs and capabilities of the members of a class. (This adaptability is a real strength of using a wiki as a course management system, as I am finding out right now in my summer calculus course. More on that later.)

Universities and colleges do seem to face a twofold mandate from students: not only to get in the game regarding technology in the first place, but also to do so in a way that keeps things simple and flexible and student-centered. That can be a tall order for higher ed, which is used to doing things in a highly top-down kind of way.

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