Matters of Scale

I wrote about how important it is to get people properly involved in new learning and teaching approaches – students and staff – based on the the whole condemnation, complaint, compliance and commitment model. But let me be absolutely clear as to why compliance is not enough.

Compliance doesn’t scale.

If you have a lot of people who are just doing what they’re told, but aren’t committed to it, then they’re not going to be willing explorers in the space. They’re not going to create new opportunities. Why? Because they don’t really believe in it, they’ve just reached the rather depressing stage of shuffling along, not complaining, just doing what they’re told. When we don’t explain to people, or we don’t manage to communicate, the importance of what we’re doing, then how can they commit to it?

I’m fortunate to be at a meeting full of people who have done amazing things. I’m really only here as a communicator of some great stuff going on at my Uni and in Australia, I’m a proxy for amazing things. But being around these people is really inspiring. They know why they’re doing it, they’ve heard all of the complaints, fought off the underminers and, in some cases, had to make some very hard calls to drive forward positive agendas for change. (Goodness, such phrases…) But they also know that they need other people to make it happen.

We need commitment, we need passion and we need people to scale up our solutions to the national and international level.

The Higher Educational world is changing – there’s no doubt about that. Some people look at things like Khan Academy and think “Oh no, the death of traditional education.” Most of the discussions I’ve had here, and I agree with this, are more along the lines of “Ok, how can we use this to go further?” Universities are all about knowledge and the development/discovery of more knowledge. If we have people out there with good on-line courses that cover the basics in disciplines, why not use them to allow us to go further? The gap between what I teach my undergraduates and what I do in my research is vast – just about anything I can do to get my students to develop skill and knowledge mastery is a good thing.

Ok, we are going to have to sort out quality issues, maybe certification or credit recording, work out if someone has done certain courses: there’s a lot of organisation to do here if we want to go down this path. But, most importantly, I don’t see this as the death of the University – I see this as an amazing opportunity to go further, do better things, allowing students and staff to get much, much more out of the educational system.

So everyone has learnt to program by the time that they’re 12? FANTASTIC! Now, we can start looking at actual Computer Science and putting trained algorithmicists out there along with extremely well-trained software engineers. We can finally start to really push out the boundaries of education and get people working smarter, sooner.

Are there risks and threats? Of course. But, no matter what happens, the University of the 21st Century is not the University of the previous millennium. Change is coming. Change is here. We may as well try to be as constructive as possible as we try to imagine the shape of the University of tomorrow. We’re not talking about University 2100, we’re talking 20XX, where XX is probably closer than many of us think.

To quote Captain Jack Harkness:

“The 21st century is when everything changes. And we have to be ready.”



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