Affordable education: Re-educating the educators
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Affordable education: Re-educating the educators

New York City : NY : USA | Aug 21, 2012 at 8:08 AM PDT
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Here are the facts: the sticker price of a college degree is steep and getting steeper. Currently, U.S. student debt is headed for $1 trillion, and economic and education experts predict that figure to continue to escalate. One way to put the brakes on? Start re-thinking the way post-secondary education is delivered.

“Under current and foreseeable economic conditions, traditional classroom instruction will become decreasingly viable financially,” writes Mike Liebhold, a senior researcher and distinguished fellow at The Institute for the Future. “As high-speed networks become more accessible tele-education and hybrid instruction will become more widely employed.”

As technology continues to take on more of a role in education, a growing number of experts foresee traditional classrooms giving way to distance learning. In a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 1000-plus college professors, administrators and other stakeholders including tech experts and venture capitalists were surveyed about how they perceived the classrooms of the future. Approximately 60% of those responding predicted technology will completely change the face of higher education, while 39% indicated that while they agreed there would be deeper integration of technology in the classroom, the basic model would stay the same.

The impact of digital technology and social media is certainly making waves in in every aspect of contemporary life, including academia. The Khan Academy started out as a very low-tech attempt to tutor a young cousin in mathematics, and now it is an accepted and widely used online tutorial service, providing over 3,300 free instructional videos on a variety of subjects to a global audience. And then there is the recent launch of the World Education University (WEU), the first free online university, and the introduction of open courseware initiatives such as edX, the MIT/Harvard partnership, and Coursera, the brainchild of two Stanford University innovators. These all seem to add up to give a solid indication that the world of post-secondary education is
in for some dramatic changes.

Traditionally, the major factors in college success were class attendance, class participation and on-campus involvement, but technology could change this equation. Proponents of online courses and distance learning point to the potential technology has to open a wider universe to students -- while containing tuition costs and other fees. These visionaries predict the university of the future will be a hybrid, combining online learning and virtual classroom with face-to-face class meetings.

To a growing number of experts, these new collegiate education initiatives hold the potential to truly democratize higher education. Many think that restructuring the classic post-secondary education model is the surest way of lowering education costs, while making high-quality instruction available to a wider student audience. As one educator reasons, an innovative education that employs multiple learning techniques has a much better chance of graduating student innovators -- a group that seems to be in short supply.

“We spew it from a lectern; we expect it to be spewed back in a test,” states Jeff Jarvis, the director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. “That kind of education does not produce the innovators who would invent Google. The real need for education in the economy will be re-education.”

Maybe it’s time for some college administrators and traditional academics to go back to school.

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An instructor converses with a student via Skype as part of Coursera's free online courseware. (Image: AFP/Richard A. Brooks)
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  • An instructor converses with a student via Skype as part of Coursera's free online courseware. (Image: AFP/Richard A. Brooks)

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