A vision of the future university

This posting is a reaction to a Video by Michael Wesch entitled “Rethinking Education”

If we were to redesign the university’s degree programs and colleges, how would we start?  Here’s my proposal for what a university would be without the current connotations of what a university is today.

A lot of people I know graduated from college I know never end up going into the field that was their focus of study.  This indicates to me that often times we’re being trained for something that either doesn’t matter or the job market may not be large enough to handle.  Then what happens is that you find yourself applying for jobs where they just want to see a college degree and this somehow isn’t odd to people?

“Well I know your a chemist but really I’m just looking for a piece of paper”

So what’s the paper mean to the employer in this instance?  Well, the hope is that if you completed a program from a 4-year program that you follow through with things and that you have to have a certain base-line of intelligence.  As technology ramps up though I see people that are more test and fact driven then generalizable skills driven.

How do we restructure the university?  Everything is about emphasis but everyone gets the same degree.  This is the concept of “general education credits” to the extreme.  Use the world view shifting courses like philosophy and Sciences Technology and Society (STS) as a model.  The topics of the “courses” become focused on learning how to learn.  Today more then ever people need to be life long learners or their skills can silo’ed as to the careers and oppurtunities available to them.

We need to focus more on this and the practical application within different fields of study because lets be honest, the corporate world is going to tell you day one what you do and do not need to understand.  Companies will run you through what they want you to know shortly after being there regardless of your training.  Yes there will always be skills acquired in higher education but those can increasingly be looked up on the internet.

Some more details of this vision:

  • Take the first 3 years and focus on teaching people HOW TO THINK CRITICALLY
  • Everything I read and videos I watch indicates that skills taught in the first 2 years of the university experience for technical fields is outdated by the time they get their degree, front-load thinking and then skill acquisition becomes easier and cram that all into year 4
  • Blended learning and web-augmented courses need to be the norm.  No online exclusive courses, no in class + powerpoint exclusive courses
  • At the end you get the same degree as everyone else using things traditionally seen as minors to show emphasis
  • Tie in all subjects to “courses” which should be more of learning experiences.  Philosophy of design is extremely important to teach as it’s a pervasive concept running through all fields (why was xyz designed the way it was historically)
I’m trying to change ways of thinking about learning technology within my own sphere of influence but I really think a total restructuring will need to happen in the next decade.  If not, I think you’ll start to see a legitimate career paths post k-12 involving blogging.  And no, that’s not a joke based on my own experience with doing web-based research and blogging about a topic to become an expert (There ain’t no Drupal school).

One comment

  1. Alice · June 8, 2011

    I try not to rant about the difference between small, liberal arts schools and larger (semi) public universities. Small liberal arts schools are essentially already devoting about half the curriculum to general education. The more progressive ones are moving beyond that.

    Speaking from personal experience, it can be harder to find a job with a liberal arts degree, from a small liberal arts college. Penn State students often come from very specific, career oriented degree programs (e.g. IST). However, I do think the educational level of the graduates, as measured by their base skill sets and understanding of the world around, them is more consistent at small liberal arts colleges. Teaching critical thinking to 40+ students at once is challenging, meaning most professors have no idea how to do it, or they try and fail. It’s cliche to say that students slip through the cracks at larger universities, but it’s also true. It’s not always the ones with low grades that aren’t learning what they should be learning either.

    In the “Is a college degree worth the money” debate, I think idea of the actual education is forgotten. I went to college for a lot of reasons, but what I received was a very good education.

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