Preparing for the Future: Higher Education’s Attempt to Catch Up

August 23, 2010

5:44 pm


If the goal of higher education is to prepare students to enter the workforce, you have to wonder if colleges and universities are equipping students with not only the right knowledge, but familiarity with the culture of today’s hyper-evolving tech startup environment.

Today’s education should account for the skills students need to thrive in that world, ensuring that they can work collaboratively and take advantage of social media to expand networks, share information and promote work. The traditional lecture model found in so many classrooms is simply not enough.

Colleges and universities that are taking notice are supplementing lectures with new teaching paradigms. These innovative approaches to learning, along with any new educational platforms, should emphasize the aspects of learning that appeal greatly to students: teamwork, initiative, and community service.

    • Collaboration

Dr. Ronald Yaros, a professor at the University of Maryland, teaches a course called “Information 3.0” that is open to all majors and explores how media and technologies are affecting every industry. Students were required to blog, Tweet, and create media projects.

Dr. Yaros conducted interesting research on student collaboration using Facebook: during spring break, students were asked to join the class Facebook page and share three posts per week. They were given 15 extra credit points for those three posts, but no additional credit for additional posts.

On average, students posted eight to ten times despite no extra points. Additionally, the attitudes of the students toward their classmates and the Information 3.0 course in comparison to other classes changed after the Facebook experiment. What Dr. Yaros found was that the more his students liked his class, the less they liked other courses that didn’t incorporate the social aspect of learning. Additionally, they liked their classmates more, and wanted to engage more in partnerships and group projects. The ability to work with others is fundamental, whether working in startups or established organizations.

    • OpenCourseWare

One of the main concerns for higher education is rising cost, an increase that is affecting the number of graduates produced. A recent study by Georgetown University found that by 2018, “we will need 22 million new workers with college degrees—but will fall short of that number by at least 3 million postsecondary degrees.”

Enter OpenCourseWare, an initiative started by MIT in 2002. OCW provides lecture material organized as courses from hundreds of universities, including MIT, Harvard, and Carnegie Mellon — all for free.

While there is no current degree program offered that is based on OCW material, the unaffordable cost of tuition coupled with the availability of high-quality educational material begs for a pilot program. It could prove to be the future postsecondary model — an education that is acquired through multiple universities on a virtual campus. To learn this way takes ambition and a lot of hustle, but to those that are endowed with the right self-start mentality, there is no barrier to education.

    • Service Learning

Students typically don’t want theory, they want hands-on learning. Schools such as Philadelphia high school Science Leadership Academy emphasize experiential learning as a way to form a direct connection between what’s being taught in the classroom and how it’s used in the real world.

Service learning, which combines academics with experiential learning to service communities, is a combination that benefits both sides. Projects like PhotoPhilanthropy could potentially integrate community partners as speakers, connecting students to the people and work that can immediately utilize their education for social good. Leadership skills are developed while giving students a tangible measure of their efforts in creating positive change.

The future of education, like many things, will be a mashup of options. Where do entrepreneurs fit in this future? The next educational platforms should be tailored toward this new approach to learning — collaborative, with few restrictions, and affordable (utilizing available open-source technologies). It appears likely that hybrid models of teaching will be incorporated, which is probably a good thing — given the rapid evolution of so many paradigms, the ability to learn and adapt may be the most important skill students will learn.

Editor’s Note: Yong Lee works on the SMCEDU project, connecting the teachers, students, and professionals that can make social media a fixture in higher education. Follow him on Twitter at @yongclee.

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