More Pew Internet futures: whither higher ed in 2020?


university of sussex library


Question 2 from the 2011 Internet experts survey

In my previous post, I explained how Pew Internet and its partner Elon University run their global survey of Internet stakeholders (aka experts), on where the Internet is likely to be by 2020. I also provided some links to their resource pages. The survey is now in its 5th edition. Some 800 or 900 participants respond to questions framed in “tension pairs” – opposite points of view on issues currently getting a lot of notice from, well, Internet experts. (Btw, last year that group included the likes of Clay Shirky, Doc Searls, David Clark, Susan Crawford, Howard Rheingold, Craig Newmark and Esther Dyson.) Everyone is then asked to dig up an opinion or two and elaborate.

Higher education’s destination by 2020

[option #1] In 2020, higher education will not be much different from the way it is today. While people will be accessing more resources in classrooms stanford school of engineeringthrough the use of large screens, teleconferencing, and personal wireless smart devices, most universities will mostly require in-person, on-campus attendance of students most of the time at courses featuring a lot of traditional lectures. Most universities’ assessment of learning and their requirements for graduation will be about the same as they are now.

[option #2 – my pick] By 2020, higher education will be quite different from the way it is today. There will be mass adoption of teleconferencing and distance learning to leverage expert resources. Significant numbers of learning activities will move to individualized, just-in-time learning approaches. There will be a transition to “hybrid” classes that combine online learning components with less-frequent on-campus, in-person class meetings. Most universities’ assessment of learning will take into account more individually-oriented outcomes and capacities that are relevant to subject mastery. Requirements for graduation will be significantly shifted to customized outcomes.

PLEASE ELABORATE: What will universities look like in 2020? Explain your choice and share your view of any implications for the future of universities. What are the positives, negatives, and shades of grey in the likely future you anticipate?


I picked #2, but disagreed with much of it…

“By 2020, we’ll see what results from the continuing pressure to contain costs at universities, while catering to the career needs of students. Above all, learning will go more high-tech simply because so many people in education, government and business believe that technology makes kids smarter. The fact there’s no good evidence to support this belief is unlikely to discourage investment in the coming years. Moreover, I am deeply skeptical of the idea that students should all be given tablets or other devices to work with, in the expectation they will be used to study rather than for entertainment or socializing. Of course, tech in the classroom is not the same thing as tech that supports distance learning. Nevertheless, extending a lecture to one or more adjacent rooms is not all that different from extending it to other cities or even countries. The greater cost of the latter will gradually be reduced as bandwidth becomes more plentiful and keeps falling in price, while residential broadband penetration rises.

“Other cost savings will be realized by moving education off-campus – especially the hard costs associated with facilities to hold classes, dorms, support services, etc. Still other ways to save money will be no less important in Canada, since universities here have to struggle for government funding and face serious barriers to raising tuition fees.

“For years now, many students in humanities and social sciences have looked on their undergrad degree less as part of a learning cycle than as a step toward finding a job (which was not the case in the good old days). These students tend to have little interest in the idea of scholarship, in reading scholarly articles or interacting with full-time faculty. The divide between research and teaching is undoubtedly reflected in the continuing long-term rise at North American schools in the use of adjunct professors – to save money as well as have instructors available who can adapt more readily to student needs, like teaching evening courses. But whatever their status, instructors who give great lectures will be in demand far and wide, a good outcome for all concerned.

“On the other hand, I don’t believe for a moment that moving some teaching off-campus will result in more individually-oriented or customized outcomes. Customizing education is too complicated for large institutions. And if outcomes are made too personal, a perception of bias or unfairness is likely to arise. Universities will have their hands full just trying to confirm that off-campus learners have done the required work, without cheating or relying on third-party assistance.”


My student digs in Brighton, England, B.A. (Before Arpanet) – courtesy Google Earth