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A Change Is Gonna Come

A look around any college campus is all the evidence you need to predict the future of learning.

This being the January issue, prognostications for the new year are typically in order.

I don't do predictions very well. Especially at this time in human history, when so much seems in flux, it feels pretty much like a crapshoot to me to place a bet on the future.

But I am willing to make one prediction--maybe not for 2011 per se, but surely for the coming decade: Mobile technology is going to be an unstoppable change agent in education.

Now, you may be thinking: Some prediction! Everybody knows that we are headed rapidly toward full mobility.

Please understand: I've been in educational technology since the late 1980s. I've seen hundreds of technological tools be ordained as the innovation that would change education.

And not one ever did.

All you have to do is poke your head into any college classroom and know that things are pretty much where they were a couple of centuries ago.

On the other hand, all you have to do is walk around any college campus and see, to quote William Butler Yeats, how all is "changed, changed utterly."

Practically every one of our students--rich and poor, wise and less wise--is walking around with a powerful computing device in his or her hand. These students are changing the nature of their education using those devices, whether they realize it or not--and whether we help them or not.

Mobile technology is about to do something that government and universities and K-12 school systems have not managed to do in the past three decades: close the digital divide. And as it closes ... well, watch out. This revolution will be televised--or, er, rather, digitized.

The question arises, then, for higher education leaders: Are you going to be part of the revolution, or just watch it?

You may be the first generation of educators in human history whose students understand more about their learning tools than their teachers. But as USC's Susan Metros so brilliantly put it in her keynote for the CT Virtual Conference in November: Students "know how to upload a movie in YouTube, to upload pictures.... They know how to text, and they are constantly connected to something digital. But my argument is they are not literate; they are just basically stimulated." (For more on Metros' speech, see this month's Trendspotter.)

The point I'm making here is that students are going in the directions they are going without much guidance. And as the proliferation of mobile computing fuels that diaspora, I'm not sure what bodes for the future of institutions of higher learning, or indeed, the future of the planet itself.

I excerpted earlier from Yeats' poem "Easter, 1916," which was its own prognostication on the coming era. It's worth my noting here the entire refrain I quoted from: "All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."

Continue the conversation. E-mail me at [email protected]

About the Author

Therese Mageau is the former editorial director of THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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