Author: Peter Smith in: Change; Jan/Feb2004, Vol. 36 Issue 1, p28-35, 8p, 2c
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BUILDING A NEW KIND OF INSTITUTION
Why We Need It How to Support It
I've been in higher education for over 30 years, with time off for a diversion into elective office at the state level and in the United States Congress. Throughout my career, I've watched, listened, and engaged in the swirling debate about the need to transform our colleges and universities and our approaches to students, teaching, and learning. But, sadly, despite a lot of research and advocacy to the contrary, the basic shape of the box--the American university and how we do business inside it--hasn't changed very much.
Despite an enormous diversity of institutional types and our historic commitment to access, there is a numbing sameness across our campuses when it comes to the actual practice of teaching and learning. Different colleges recruit different students, serve different audiences, and teach different bodies of knowledge. But they do it all using the same basic academic model.
A scholar-professor appears in front of students largely in isolation from the world outside. Instructional encounters are structured in terms of standard blocks of time of approximately three hours per week, organized around a central text and syllabus tailored to fill up a 12- to 16-week period. We are similarly universal and unvarying in what we expect of students, no matter their individual needs or background. They are expected to come as they are and be ready to learn, to absorb the teaching they receive, to prove that they learned it, and to go on to a higher level for more of the same.
And while technology has certainly modified many courses, the reality is that even technology-infused course designs continue to treat all students similarly and that the cost of technology...