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The Future of Education

Anya Kamanetz:

The Virtual University: The face-to-face learning experience, like the live concert experience, remains inimitable. Research shows that, at its best, hybrid learning beats both online-only and classroom-only approaches. Learners can take in and retain more content faster and more easily, form strong mentoring and teamwork relationships, grow into self-directed, creative problem solvers, and publish portfolios of meaningful work that help jobs find them. These innovations hold out the tantalizing possibility of beating the cost disease while meeting the world's demand for higher education....

[C]olleges do provide a bundle of services. You crack a book or go to lecture and learn about the world. You go to labs or write papers and build a skill set. You form relationships with classmates and teachers and learn about yourself. You get a diploma, and the world can learn about you. Content, skills, socialization, and accreditation. The Web and allied technologies can make each of these services better, cheaper, more accessible, and even free to the student. Content, whether text, video, audio, or game-based, has progressed the furthest along that path. Interactive teaching algorithms can adapt to your learning style on the fly, allowing you to grasp concepts intuitively and at your own pace. And the Internet hasn't just changed the way we consume information. It has altered the way we interact. Social media can help students and teachers form learning communities. Reputation, assessment, and certification are held jealously as a monopoly by existing institutions, but new tools and models are knocking on that door, too.... Open content -- also known as open courseware, or open educational resources (OER) -- can mean any use of the Web to share the fruits of faculty time, from curricula to lesson plans to texts to original research.... Students spend an average of $1,000 a year on textbooks, and faculty spend countless hours preparing and updating course materials, which prompts the question: What will it take for colleges to realize the power of free and open resources and use them to cut educational costs?...

Whether hybrid classes, social networks, tutoring programs, games, or open content, technology provides speed skates for students and teachers, not crutches. To save money and improve learning, educational technology has to be well-designed and carefully implemented. The roles of professors will shift, and new jobs will be created in place of the old. "Technology can't make a bad teacher into a good teacher," says Sarah Robbins, an expert on the use of gaming in teaching who goes by the Internet handle Intellagirl. "Students who don't want to learn won't suddenly become great students when you put a gadget in their hands. Learning to teach with technology is less about 'how does it work' and much more about 'why should I use it.'".. Over its long history, higher education has been uncommonly resistant to innovation in teaching practices. It's clear we're just beginning to glimpse the full potential of what technology can do to transform education. Increasingly, this is going to be considered part of good teaching practice. Rather than dust off the same old mimeographed course packets year after year, professors these days have no excuse for not bellying up to the buffet of brand-new, free course materials and activities or logging on to the wealth of wikis and portals to find and share best practices... it's not clear yet which innovations will become mainstays, the chalkboards, textbooks, and diplomas of the future, and which will be marginal applications or mere flashes in the pan. At this point, however, the hybrid, NCAT-style course-redesign models seem most compelling. Not only do they show some of the best learning results, but they're in keeping with the multifaceted history of the university, and they offer the reassurance of familiarity -- a scaffolding, if you will, for the transition to new modes of teaching. tap