[Image retrieved from http://www.geekologie.com/2007/09/get_your_very_own_pet_dinosaur.php 12 January 2012]
In this week’s change mooc, Irvine and Code introduced the question regarding the future of “brick and mortar” universities.
Higher education in general, and “brick and mortar” universities in particular – face a number of challenges. I responded to their proposal for “multi-access learning” as a way to address some of these challenges in a previous post, but I would like to now reflect on the main question: do we really still need brick and mortar higher education institutions? Or are the brick and mortar higher education institutions leftovers from a previous era? Will we look at them one day as exhibits of an era gone by?
Let me immediately start by stating that I think that “brick and mortar” higher education will still be with us for a very long time. Why do I say this?
Brick and mortar higher education institutions have always served and perpetuated the interests and epistemologies of the dominant discourses of the day whether sponsored by religion, the state, national interests or economic interests.
Nothing has changed. I really cannot see the normative discourses that are served by brick and mortar institutions to give up their interests. There is too much at stake for them.
Yet, it is no longer business (sic) as usual…
A number of scholars have indicated that the playing field has changed dramatically and will change even more dramatically in future. This does not only affect what we teach, how we teach but increasingly, why we teach.
I don’t pretend to see things or hear voices (my shrink said I should not reveal the fact that sometimes I see things that others don’t see J), but the following seem to herald different ways of looking at higher education:
- There is an increasing convergence between residential and distance education higher education. Technology redefines the notion of face-to-face, location/place and time. Interestingly, of these three, “time” seems to have changed the least – I don’t foresee the notion of synchronous and asynchronous to disappear? Mobile technologies are changing the traditional notions of “office hours” and “class time”. In an age when learning is going mobile big time, why do we still think of brick and mortar?
- The notion of accreditation is changing. Employers are increasingly looking for and at portfolios of evidence, capability and expertise. I suspect the validation and accreditation of learning and expertise will be a highly contested issue for the next number of years e.g. open source academia versus established journals; badges instead of certificates, etc. Again there are huge interests (read money) at stake, but change is coming…
- Not only has the number of knowledge producers increased (understatement), the nature of knowledge production and dissemination has changed – from experts going open to open (in the sense of self-publishing) going expert.
- Lifelong learning is changing the playing field and changing the rules. There is increasing need for shorter, just-in-time and context-specific learning which defies the traditional boundaries of brick and mortar.
- Local is good. While the notion of “global is good” remains the dominant paradigm, there are increasing concerns and contestations of local knowledges claiming a space and equal validity. In so doing these local knowledges contest and deconstruct notions of the quality and universal applicability of knowledge produced in the global north.
Centuries of brick-and-mortar-produced graduates who plundered the earth’s limited resources, increased global poverty and inequalities to levels last seen in the dark ages and who look for any good reason to import and transplant so-called liberal democracy to contexts ravaged by famine and disaster (ala Friedman).
We don’t need no education. We don’t need another brick in the wall.
Maybe there still is a need for brick and mortar higher education – as museums of an era gone past?