May 16, 2013, 11:23 am
There is an issue, which may or may not be a problem for universities around the world, but that is certainly gaining a lot of attention in Britain and the United States—namely, attention itself.
Students increasingly arrive at university having grown up in a world in which their habits of study are heavily influenced by new media. They are used to media acting as a continuous stream of content that is more like a river of images than a page of text. According to one account, that means much shorter attention spans, much greater attention to visual modes of understanding, greater modulation of time, more and more reliance on interfaces, and so on. (See, most recently, Stephen Apkon’s The Age of the Image.)
Now, I think it is true that our students have become accustomed to being presented with bite-size chunks of information in ways that can leave their instructors concerned an…
April 26, 2013, 11:21 am
University campuses are increasingly becoming beacons for public values, contrary to the many critics who seem to believe that the Dark Ages are upon us in higher education.
There are many different campuses that are leading society to a better place by setting an example themselves. In the past, they were on the forefront of battles over gender and racial equality. But the story doesn’t end there. I see progress recently in four other important areas: gun control, sustainability, community outreach, and global health.
In the United States, the most recent instance is the campaign by many college and university presidents to take on the gun lobby and reassert the need for gun-free campuses—against considerable pressure from state legislatures in some cases. Five states now permit the concealed carry of firearms at public institutions. As other state legislators introduce bills …
March 26, 2013, 10:47 am
Engineering students outside the Mumbai office of the All India Council for Technical Education in August 2012.
A recent trip to India I took underlined the challenge that higher education faces worldwide. It must change what it does and how it does it to meet the growing demand. In India, for example, one estimate is that 500 million people will need training in vocational skills by 2022 and 40 million will need a university education by 2020. The consequences of these kinds of numbers for colleges and universities—not only in India but elsewhere, too—are still only being thought through.
I can think of five consequences.
First, higher education will have to become even more involved in secondary and adult education. Given the scale of the problem, there is no real alternative. Of course, universities…
March 1, 2013, 10:31 am
Fascinating things are going on in the world of representation. It used to be that communicating through symbols was a straightforward task. It involved what were usually relatively distinct domains: writing, drawing, painting, sculpture, music, or performance.
But now that is all changing as a result of digital production and distribution. Over the last few years, each art form has begun to bleed into the others. Whether it’s art based on information technology or immersive performances that engage all of the senses, it has become increasingly necessary to be able to wield a range of skills drawn from different domains, either individually or in groups. As a result, media have not so much become mixed as have started to produce new, more permeable forms. Games are the obvious example, but there are many others, too.
I don’t want to exaggerate these changes—after all, text an…
February 22, 2013, 12:06 pm
The English have a difficult time shaking a “Downton Abbey” view of class — and higher education, says Nigel Thrift. Pictured here is Highclere Castle, in Hampshire, England, where the popular TV show is filmed.
All higher-education systems have their pros and cons. In previous posts, I have mentioned things that make me nervous about higher education in the United States, including legacy admissions and how American universities have embraced market-oriented thinking.
But there are of course good aspects, too, aspects that other systems could learn from. In England, universities tend to be stuck in a rut occasioned by the Downton Abbey class—or should I say, caste—habits, which often still pertain when it comes to higher education. The result is that every university tends to be placed in a hierarchy….
February 13, 2013, 10:40 am
MOOCs have become a media obsession. Why?
In part because they are the continuation of a story that has been around since at least the 1990s and the first days of magazines like Wired and Fast Company. At that time, information technology was depicted as part of a revolution: Marxist rhetoric had been appropriated by capitalism. Information technology would change everything through a peculiar mix of a corporate charge and evangelism, expanded profit opportunities and enlightenment.
I’d like to think that since then we’ve learned something. Information technology changes some things, for sure. But it doesn’t change everything.
After all, universities have produced a substantial body of research that argues that information technology is not an epochal economy-changing technology. Universities have also carried out a great deal of research that examines in detail what…
February 8, 2013, 10:31 am
It is fascinating to see how academic communication is changing around the world. A new generation of scholars is using online tools to grapple with issues of public concern.
In the past, the communications choices were fairly simple. There were journal articles and books to reach other academics. There were the occasional professors on television, the various columnists in the print media, and, with a bit of luck and a lot of application, news articles about university work. But the times are changing. Many more channels mean that much more content is dispersed.
As a result, the ability to broadcast academic opinion and information worldwide is much greater than before.
Online communication is growing in many ways, each of them “worldwise” in their attention to building international constituencies.
One is to act as an aggregator for knowledge and expertise on a particular…
December 20, 2012, 11:34 am
The British attitude to Europe often seems sad and unnecessarily destructive.
The idea of withdrawing from the European Union is profoundly mistaken, promoted by a ragtag of interests and members of the national press who often seem to confuse Europe with immigrants and run stories with two variants: “They’re taking our money” and “it’s just a crazy bureaucracy.” The result is clear enough: Britain has become more and more marginalized within Europe, a stance that can only make it more and more marginal to the world at large.
Of course, the European Union is hardly perfect but, as The Economist has reported, the consequences of a withdrawal from it would be catastrophic. The magazine argues that Britain would end up as just another “scratchy outsider.”
It’s even worse so far as universities are concerned. British universities have become tightly integrated into Europe,…
December 6, 2012, 9:22 am
Will the higher education of the future resemble the changes transforming the medical industry?
I read recently a remarkable article in The New Yorker by Atul Gawande called “Big Med.” It tried to outline where medicine might be going next.
Given spiraling costs, increasing demand, and lax quality controls, Gawande makes it clear that medicine will—and probably has to—go through a series of changes that will move it from being a craft industry to something that much more closely resembles a conventional industry. He outlines clearly the costs and benefits: “We’ve let health-care systems provide us with the equivalent of greasy-spoon fare at four-star prices, and the results have been ruinous. The Cheesecake Factory model represents our best prospect for change. Some will see danger in this. Many will …
November 13, 2012, 11:10 am
A painting by Michele Felice Corne of the battle between the USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812.
In the year of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, it seems appropriate to continue writing about the differences between the U.S. and British higher-education systems. Most commentators agree that the reasons for that fascinatingly odd war and who won it remain controversial. Let’s hope that I can be clearer about some of our educational disagreements—and similarities.
So let’s turn to a difference between systems that is one of the most striking. Most people from Britain are genuinely shocked to find that elite U.S. universities reserve places for the children of the rich and well connected. It is probably the single fact about U.S. higher education that they find most disturbing….