Let's Build a New Ivory Tower, This Time With Electrons

Technology can make education better, cheaper, and even smarter.

Posted Jul 06, 2020

No Attribution Listed on Pixabay
Source: No Attribution Listed on Pixabay

I always thought it would be amazing to have Carl Sagan teach a class on astronomy. I could sit back in my chair, relax and listen to this brilliant professor present amazing features about our universe in a way that would not only be educational but potentially transformative. Unfortunately, I didn't get Professor Sagan. What I got was a graduate student whose attention was on another project a few light-years away from the matter at hand. I would bet that this happens more than most universities would like to admit. 

Now, something fundamental is changing our world. As technology gains a foothold, thanks in part to the social upheaval of COVID-19, our use of eLearning is in a tremendous state of flux. Universities now seek to deliver courses online, yet seem to be delivering the limited real-world experience in a less limited virtual space. It seems that these universities are taking a traditional and rigid model, pushing it through the available technology with little thought about how the entire user experience can be enhanced. 

This experience is playing out in industries around the world. Your accessibility to world-class physicians now exists with the convenience of a smartphone. And many masterclasses are now available for a remarkably small fee. We no longer settle for what geography offers us but seek out the best and the brightest to enhance the entire experience from content to delivery.

Today, many universities are simply taking their standard classroom format and trying to recreate it as some sort of online experience that feels just like the traditional classroom setting. 

It’s not.

As I’ve discussed in a prior post, the educational experience and online setting needs to be reinvented, and not just recalibrated. We must create a unique experience similar to the robust user experience (UX) that now exists online. Perhaps we can even establish the EX (educational experience) as a new guardrail for the system that is currently in the throes of change.

Of course, this comes at the expense of higher education orthodoxy. They have tremendous control and it would be unlikely that they would easily compromise the educational hegemony that supports their perceived academic reputation and price tag. 

Today, Rutgers announced that they are planning for a Fall 2020 semester “that will combine a majority of remotely delivered courses with a limited number of in-person classes.” It will be interesting to see if Rutgers (and other schools) can advance their agenda of academic excellence with something more than a "cut and paste" curriculum driven by a lackluster technology platform that we just zoom in and out of. And much of the dialogue is around time and space and much less about the vast potential for expanding the opportunity to learn from the diverse and eclectic minds that are available.

In a word, it's disruption.

The traditional campus structure must give way to consumer demands and needs. From faculty to efficiency to economy, the ivory tower will be augmented with the electron tower and the result can be simply brilliant.