For several decades, two of the most popular buzzphrases in educational innovation have been “collaborative learning” and “cooperative learning.” The degree to which a course is more or less the sage on the stage dispensing information to students taking notes (and trying to stay awake) is often seen today as a measure of the quality of the educational experience in that course. I’ve already written about the ways that digital media are already subverting the course as we know it. Today I want to focus more on how these same media are going to transform educational practice in another fundamental way.
As an April 22nd story in The Economist pointed out, big media companies “can barely conceive of a scenario in which users might put as much into the network as they take out.” But it’s happening already and at an accellerating pace. Already, according to a Pew Foundation study, 57% of American teenagers are putting content online, whether in the form of images, blog entries, original art, or entire websites. The single largest among of this content seems to be in the form of “me media” (to steal a headline from the New Yorker, whose website, by the way, exemplifies just about everything traditional media don’t get about digital media)–that is, material on social networking sites such as Facebook.com, Livejournal.com, and MySpace.com. The key point here is not that the content they are creating is of some sort of high quality. The point is that they have grown up as content creators.
What does that mean for educators? It means that if the educational experiences we create for our students are going to seem meaningful to them, they will increasingly require opportunities for students to create their own content–the participate in the distribution of content in the course. David Sifry, founder of Technorati.com is quoted in the Economist article cited above as saying that through this sort of participation, media companies now have to deal with “the people formerly known as the audience.”
As educators, before much longer, we’ll be staring out at classrooms filled with “people formerly known as students.”
This can’t happen in higher education. Right? Professors will always be the transmitters of knowledge and students will always be the recipients. Right?
Keep saying it to yourself. Maybe if you say it enough times it will be true.
Just in case, though, you might try this sentence from the Economist on for size and see if the shoe fits:
[The rise of individual content creation] “has profound implications for traditional business models in the media industry, which are based on aggregating large passive audiences and holding them captive during advertising interruptions.”
Now let’s play with the wording just a bit, shall we?
[The rise of individual content creation] “has profound implications for traditional models in higher education, which are based on aggregating large passive audiences into lecture halls and holding them captive for an entire semester.”
Forever ago (2000) in Internet years I wrote what I thought was going to be a provocative conclusion, that the digital media revolution was going to spell the end of the coverage model survey course. In the past several years we’ve already begun to see the breakdown of the old coverage model as more and more topically organized introductory courses appear in history curricula. Now I think the challenge to our traditional model of education is much greater. I’m convinced that before long the course is going to cease to be the only model for delivering educational content in universities and that before long those people formerly known as students will have a much more important role to play in their own education.