Seen & Heard: Who's Behind This Wheel?

Has technology moved from education enabler to education driver? If so, just whose technology is doing the driving?

In 2002-2003, when I was covering higher education for another publication, a hot controversy scorched our pages: It was the debate over whether or not the student was the “customer” of higher ed. Only three years ago, college presidents and provosts were aghast at the idea that the student’s preferences and desires might drive the campus pedagogical effort.

“After all,” they insisted (I reconstruct their position here), “It is we who know best what young adults need to learn and how they need to learn it; that truth is at the core of the pedagogical process.”

Some campus educators and executives were not as genteel in their responses. They wanted to know how anyone could suggest that college educators pander to the student, just because he or his parents were footing the bill.

“Can you imagine what would happen to education, if student preferences drove it?” one letter-to-the-editor writer wanted to know.

As it turns out, I can. Recently, I sat in a general session of Syllabus2005, and listened to an audience of senior campus technologists envision the future of higher education. UC-Berkeley Director of Educational Technology Services Victor Edmonds asked the audience to think out of the box and imagine where college teaching and learning might head, enabled by IT.

“I’d like it to be responsive to the students’ own technologies—whatever they bring to campus from their outside lives,” one session attendee volunteered. He explained that students would be able to communicate, work on school projects and research, and collaborate and share information with others via their devices of choice. The campus, for its part, would be designed to integrate with those devices.

Another session attendee chimed in: If students wished to display their information in a classroom, a casual learning environment, or anywhere else for that matter, they would effortlessly and wirelessly connect with a presentation screen. In an instant, they could beam work to laptops, PDAs, anywhere; or make audio files available to others accessing via MP3 or smartphone devices. What’s more, the campus’s devices would “sense” a student’s presence and, via technology, would “identify” him in a seminar room of hundreds.

Other attendees added their visions to the initial ones, and described a world where education was instantly available to students who could access it on their terms, in their own timeframes, at the locations of their choice, and via the devices of their choosing.

Later, I thought about a world of education driven by student need, options, and preferences. What I saw was the centuries-old dream of educators: student passion and enthusiasm for learning that knows no bounds. I suppose that’s what happens when you put the learner in the driver’s seat. He gets behind the wheel and g'es as far as his imagination and hunger for learning can take him.

About the Author

Katherine Grayson is is a Los Angeles based freelance writer covering technology, education, and business issues.

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