Information technology and the progressive evolution of the digital age is all around us. Every day we consume thousands of lines of text dedicated to keeping us up-to-date on topics that are meaningful to us.
Those who have had the privilege of being born amidst this technology have the advantage of better understanding and manipulating it.
At the academic standpoint however, this creates a paradigm shift. Students not only understand, but expect technology to match their expectations with immediate access to data, minimal time spent in “meat space,” and a growing trend for students signing up for courses available online.
These topics are serious concerns for universities like Concordia and McGill, and are precisely what Anthony Masi, professor and provost at McGill, addressed in his conference this Thursday, titled “Are Universities Obsolete?”
Like most sociology papers, the answer to that question would be a resounding “no,” but the details of Masi’s presentation gave way to some in depth review of the struggles universities now face with the growing popularity of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) like Coursera and Udacity.
These free, open-ended and high quality courses are produced and assessed by university professors, assembled with advanced artificial intelligence that recognize where students make mistakes in their self-assessments, and offer them a different explanation for the material, just like an in-class teacher would.
This format of classes proves to be a significant challenge for universities that are still operating under a fundamentally flawed system that has had difficulties adapting with this rise in information technology.
Campuses are limited by antiquated funding opportunities, poorly organized campus spaces, and hardware that is often grossly outdated, or simply poorly supported. A prime example of this would be the growing rise in usage of the library buildings; students are visiting libraries more and more, but leaving with books far less often.
The transition to digital information has left libraries with stacks of books that are collecting dust, whilst students peruse the latest editions on their laptops.
“MOOC’s are shaping up to be a game-changer,” said Masi.
Giving students the option of participating in high quality courses without being on campus, and offering these courses completely free of charge are some of the reasons why administrations, boards and professors alike are turning their attention to these learning tools.
Although these cannot currently provide you with the necessary credits to graduate in a program, MOOC’s could fundamentally alter the accessibility and economy of education in the future by offering the very best course, with top of the line experts, and phasing out local institutions in favour of those with a more prestigious budget.
There’s no denying that fundamental changes are coming to the way courses are given in universities. The bottom line is that the students are the ones who will benefit the most from this competition in business models, by offering students better access to education at affordable prices.