Higher Education – Dangerously Close to Becoming Irrelevant

By Tom Hanson | Related entries in Education

In his 2006 report to the Panel on Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies, Associate Professor David Wiley, Ph.D., raised more than a few eyebrows when he informed panel members that higher education in America was “in very real danger of becoming irrelevant.”

Wiley describes the antiquated college classroom experience thus:

“Students are inside a classroom (tethered to a place), using textbooks and handouts (printed materials), they must pay tuition and register to attend (the experience is closed), talking during class or working with others outside of class is generally discouraged (each student is isolated though surrounded by peers), each student receives exactly the same instruction as each of her classmates (the information presented is generic), and students are students and do not participate in the teaching process (they are consumers).”

In contrast, students experience a completely different world when they are outside the classroom:

“From her dorm room / the student center / a coffee shop / the bus, a student connects to the Internet using her laptop (she is mobile), uses Google to find a relevant web page (a digital resource which is open for her to access). While carrying out her search, she chats with one friend on the phone and another using instant messaging to see if they can assist in her search (she is connected to other people), she follows links from one website to another exploring related information (the content is connected to other content), she quickly finds exactly the information she needs, ignoring irrelevant material (she gets what is important to her personally), and she shares her find with her friends by phone and IM (she participates in the teaching process).”

Higher Education – Dangerously Close to Becoming Irrelevant


This entry was posted on Saturday, August 16th, 2008 and is filed under Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Higher Education – Dangerously Close to Becoming Irrelevant”

  1. Bob Aman Says:

    I’m sorry, but no. There’s something to be said for “generic” knowledge, as well as for having lots of smart people all in one place. There’s also something to be said about the significant social effects of colleges. Wikipedia and the Internet at large are not substitutes for colleges and universities and they never will be. Anyone who says otherwise has been drinking way too much kool-aid.

    I say this as someone who uses maybe 10% of what I learned in college. That 10% is still worth every minute of the 3 years I spent at RIT. These days, everything I need to know I obtain from the Internet or from books (virtually all of which are available for download in PDF form), but I also recognize the fact that I need the foundation that RIT provided in order to effectively make use of the knowledge I’m able to obtain from the Internet. Perhaps we don’t need 4 or 5 year programs anymore (I completed my degree early), but if higher education were ever eliminated from the equation, all you’ll do is produce a lazy, uninformed work-force. Hopefully we’ll never be dumb enough to go down that road.

  2. Rich Horton Says:

    There is probably a good reason Schools of Education are looked down upon by the majority of academics….and it resembles nonsense like this. Not every moment of these kids lives has to resemble play time.

    Recess ends for everybody.

  3. ExiledIndependent Says:

    While Wiley is definitely a prolific and vocal figure in this sort of discussion, he misses some key points about higher education. In reality, if you look at what he’s advocating, it’s really more relevant for emerging adult learners than in the higher education set. His ideas would have more impact if they were applied in grades 7-12 rather than at university levels.

    From my own college experience (now several years in the rearview mirror), his assertions about the current state of the college classroom are just plain wrong unless he’s focused exclusively on the freshman gen-ed, 200-person lecture classes. And those make up a small fraction of they typical college courseload. I went to a large state school and found that expression and collaboration were behavioral norms, not the exception.

    Finally, higher education itself is much more diversified already. There is built-in school choice, and typically a breadth of coursework that dwarfs what is available to a high school student.

  4. kranky kritter Says:

    I’m quite happy to jump on board the notion that both regular public school and post-secondary ed can be drastically and fruitfully reformed to focus much better on 21st century skills.

    However, I don’t buy the caricature that serves to represent current college ed. Not every college class is a lecture. Further, I expect “reform” to continue come about organically in many instances.

    The biggest trouble we’ll have with needed change is anything that assaults the current dominant model where you pay 20-30k+ per year for 4 years to live at a school and develop a broad base of liberal arts knowledge in addition to an often esoteric major/specialty.

    I’d love to see someone with the seeds to come up with a highly demanding kick-ass 2-year version of college. One that made much of what many consider essential to the college experience to become optional for those more interested in starting their careers in the real world. The cultural experience (political evangelism/training wheel subcultures/drinking and frats/formation of social allegiances), while delightful, can be construed as optional. And much of what comprises the liberal arts base ought to be regarded as optional, or at least distillable into 3 or 4 courses.

  5. Rich Hudson Says:

    Meanwhile, guys like Associate Professor David Wiley, Ph.D., will continue to get a higher education to land cushy, high-paying teaching jobs.

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