The future of universities


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Article published in Zocalo, picked up by TIME:  

Students will be in the driver’s seat — Andy Miah

Technology will force universities to re-define their role within 21stcentury life, and this has a lot to do with the DIY generation, who figure out what they need to know via Google and Wikipedia. These platforms are the equivalent of the single-celled organisms that gave birth to humanity’s evolution.

In a world where learning experiences are ubiquitous and we rely less and less on institutions to deliver them, technology forces universities to re-think what they offer in the 21st century. Universities are no longer the gatekeepers of new knowledge, even less so with the rise of citizen science experiments, where non-experts can gather important data, and alternative qualification options, such as Mozilla Open Badges.

Students of tomorrow will want flexible, mobile-enabled learning experiences that are as compelling as film or theatre. The success of TED talks is indicative of the changing demands on teachers today and the changing attention economy of the new generation. Universities need to think carefully about how to curate learning experiences, making each lecture truly memorable and life-changing. The classroom now has to empower students to set the agenda and drive their own learning.

As we move into an era of sentient computing, universities need also to see technology not just as a vehicle for communicating ideas or enriching learning, but as a co-collaborator. Computers will become entities onto which students will project learning expectations. The machines will teach us, they will also learn, and they will spend more time with students than a lecturer ever can. If we want humans to remain at the heart of that interaction, we then need to really reconsider what we offer that they can’t.

Andy Miah is a professor and chair in science communication and future media at the University of Salford in Manchester, England. Follow him on Twitter @Andymiah.