Today and tomorrow I’ll be live blogging Mason’s “Future of Higher Education” conference (hashtag #masonfuture in case you’ve heard of that thing called Twitter. Because this conference is both about higher education in general and about Mason specifically, I’ll be very interested to listen between the lines for clues as to where the new leadership of our university seems to think we are heading.
The conference opened this morning with introductory remarks from Mason’s new president Angel Cabrera (who was reading his notes from his phone — there’s a change right there). The issue he led with (context #1) was the increasingly challenging funding environment universities like Mason face. No news here — as he pointed out, the funding philosophy of our legislature (as well as most across the country) is higher education is no longer a public good, but rather, is a private good financed by the users (students).
His second theme was the transformational nature of hand held computing technology (context #2). These devices will “force innovation in business models” in higher education. They will also spur “pedagogical innovations.” [In my view, we haven't seen many of these yet. MOOCs are anything but innovative pedagogically.] Finally, these devices will spur us to adapt increasingly to a diversity of student “lifestyles and needs.” [So, here's a challenge for Mason. Are we going to provide 24/7 student service support in order to serve those different lifestyles and needs?]
President Cabrera then challenged the audience to try to have a “big open mind” today and tomorrow, to listen to big ideas, and to think through how those ideas might be implemented. [That's really the key. Big ideas are great and enthusiasm is great, but will real transformative change come from a meeting such as this? The odds are only fair, not because of anything about Mason per se, but because universities are generally very change-resistant.]