There was an excellent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education last week entitled: What colleges should learn from newspapers’ decline by Kevin Carey of Education Sector. ‘Some people will argue that the best traditional college courses are superior to any online offering’, writes Carey, ‘and they’re often right’. There is no substitute for a meeting of the minds between teacher and student, he says, but this is ‘far from the experience of the lower-division undergraduate sitting in the back row of a lecture hall. All she’s getting is a live version of what iTunes University offers free, minus the ability to pause, rewind, and fast forward at a time and place of her choosing’.
Carey goes on to point out that newspapers had a decade to transform themselves before being overtaken by the digital future, and they had a lot going for them in terms of brand names, highly skilled staff, and cash in the bank. The trouble is, when you are the best in the world at what you do, change is difficult, and the temptation to hang on is too strong.
Selective institutions will likely survive providing the ‘classic residential experience to the children of the upper middle class’ he says, but the ‘less-selective private colleges and regional public universities, by contrast — the higher-education equivalents of the city newspaper — are in real danger’. The only option, according to Carey, is for higher-education institutions to ‘use technology to their advantage, to move to a more sustainable cost structure, and to win customers with a combination of superior service and reasonable price’.
I would add to this, that ‘superior service’ also means universities recognising that the social changes brought about by Web 2.0 technologies have impacted upon cognitive processes. Educational institutions must change their practices to accommodate the new ways in which students learn and access information.