Wednesday, February 19, 2014

University Challenged

The NMC Horizon Report 2014 for Higher Education has been out a couple of weeks, but I've only managed to read it today.  Clearly there are huge challenges facing universities which the report highlights.  One of the biggest challenges to traditional universities, I think, will be the rise of free online courses and even initiatives such as the flipped classroom which may well make attending a physical campus on a daily basis unnecessary.  MOOCs have become very popular - however the low rate of completion could be a cause concern.  Perhaps online learning needs to be made more natural, so that it is more similar to face-to-face learning?  Another huge trend identified is the use of social media in learning.  Already in schools we can see social media such as Facebook being used as part of classes - this trend will surely continue as these students enter universities.  However yet again there will be challenges with this:  the Horizon Report identifies the low digital fluency of faculty.

When I was at university in the UK over 30 years ago, courses were mainly academic - the practical and vocational courses were taught at polytechnics.  This is changing too - firstly because all those polytechnics are now called universities, but secondly because of the rise in the Maker movement.  More and more we are going to see students demanding courses aimed at creation, design and entrepreneurship - and universities will need to change and adapt.

I'm interested in one other challenge identified both in this report and in the 16 Trends book that I was writing about yesterday - that of the lack of rewards for teaching.  In the 16 Trends the warning is that there will be a shortage of teachers - as other employment opportunities are more attractive.  There have been several reports I've read recently about the reasons why so many teacher leave the profession.  In the case of university lecturers it seems that teaching is valued less than research - and that teaching-only contracts are paid less despite the fact that these may be the best in terms of pedagogy when compared with the outdated teaching styles of those professors whose main focus is research.

As I walked through the R&D Office a couple of days ago I saw a new book there called College (Un)bound by Jeffrey Selingo which challenges the traditional belief that a university education offers a ticket to a better life (especially when considered along with student loan debt and rising unemployment).  This is definitely going to be a challenge - many will be asking is a university degree really worth the price?

Photo Credit: Mark Ramsay via Compfight cc

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