One major video prognostication of the future of education in the United State circulating these days is called EPIC 2020. The video concept includes a projection that includes downloading free lectures and then crowd sourcing student interaction/questions to insure solid online interaction. Ultimately students would merely take exams (for a fee) to pass the course and receive “badges” or certifications when completed. The concept, you will see, surfaces in part due to the new popularity of the Kahn Academy and the idea of the “flipped classroom” where exemplary teachers provide prepared lectures prior to classes and students and teachers spend time in the class itself exploring and building on the “content” in the lectures. As you watch the video (pretty compelling) you get the sense that the itunes/youtube generation is ready for mix and match video lectures with Amazon like ratings for student questions (one star or five star) alongside a prepared exam at the end. To be honest, some of the ideas are pretty compelling. For instance the “flipped class” resembles other attempts to generate learner centered/constructivist educational strategies in the classroom that have been championed by a number of educators in the past. Student participation in peer-reviewed questions also represent a type of participatory education where students take charge of the quality of their own learning, another popular constructivst principle. However, elective class lectures, pay as you go testing, and awarding badges/certifications really reflect older strategies often used in a different era with a different form of media. Growing up I remember offerings for correspondence courses (pen and paper) in the popular media of its day, magazines. Later correspondence courses might include updated media (audio cassette lectures, full colored study guides, video tape lectures, etc.) but always the material was the proverbial “talking head” or delivered content. Said media was constantly being produced, improved, and updated… which often raised the operational cost of the content and ultimately raised the cost of courses (or at least made them cost prohibitive unless you have a large production studio). No matter how innovative the technology, the idea of teaching and studying to pass a prescribe test really reflects a model of programmed instruction that has existed for a number of years in various behaviorally oriented, self-paced, curriculum. Similarly “badges” resemble models of technical certification often associated with vocational/technical institutes but not necessarily with liberal arts or graduate studies.
Just how compelling this new vision of higher education will be remains open to speculation and future deliberations. It always helps to keep in mind the strengths and limits of emerging media (I cover this through the mediated religion link on this site and also update new information on the twitter page @mediatedrel). It will also help to keep in mind sound pedagogical principles (which I will try to keep track of through the twitter page @DidacheFT). Undoubtedly higher education in the United States will face new – yet old – challenges as technology collides with pedagogical innovations. While disturbing to some educators, it may prove equally exciting to others.