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Students Take Charge of Their Learning

IT-enabled choice and flexibility will transform education.

CT asked John Ittelson, director of communication, collaboration, and outreach for the California Virtual Campus and a professor emeritus at California State University, Monterey Bay, about the rising consumerism in higher education and its potential effects on traditional education institutions.

Campus Technology: Are students in California becoming more selective "consumers" of education?

John Ittelson: Economic realities in California have changed the way students look at how they spend their education dollars. Reduced state budgets have resulted in increased tuition, limiting access for many to classes at state education institutions. Students must now consider and scrutinize all opportunities available to them to meet their education goals--they need to become savvier consumers. They are looking carefully at community colleges, the California State University schools, the University of California schools, privates and for-profits, and making choices based on their own perceptions of value and convenience.

CT: What are some of the forces influencing this trend toward consumerism?

JI: It's actually a convergence of social, economic, and technology influences, along with the dynamic interactions among these forces. And this is more than a trend. Student preferences and demands will ultimately affect the institution at a very fundamental level, and the potential result is that we'll see some big changes in education in the near future.

CT: How are students taking charge of their education choices now?

JI: Many students go to multiple institutions--they are swirling among these schools as they choose. Some may start at one school but then life happens--and they need to change schools. In a sense, such students are taking charge of their education whether they like it or not! Then there are the more proactive students who are bypassing traditional degree programs--they realize they can learn with open source content, and they are looking for ways to validate their learning without going through the hoops, so to speak, of traditional degree programs.

CT: What has the California Virtual Campus done to serve changing student needs?

JI: We did some data analysis on what we call the new and emerging student in California. What we found is a big demographic shift: What we used to call the "nontraditional" student is now in the majority. On the basis of that, we created a new student portal--launched early this year at tries to address what students really want and need to succeed. Part of it is career planning, part is academic advising, and part is removing friction between the various education institutions that might be offering credits.

CT: Which technologies will change our education systems most as we address new student demographics?

JI: Mobility and the cloud will be large in effecting change. Identity and authentication--essentially the process of validating and certifying learning--will also take a place at the forefront of the education process and become central to IT infrastructure. With open education resources, and more online and distance learning, we are moving from technology being a support for the business of teaching and learning to technology being the business.

CT: Is higher education ready for change?

JI: We have always had the ability in higher education to resist change. It's hard to argue with institutions that still use the cap and gown from the Middle Ages at their most important event--graduation! But I believe that this is a pivotal point in education: Will our traditional institutions embrace the fundamental changes that have been predicted for a long time, or will other institutions have to meet the needs of today's students as they become more and more ready to take charge of their learning?

About the Author

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

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