Universities - The End is not far!



Balagopal

June 15, 2009. Universities as we know them are traditional centers of learning with pedagogy as the core delivery medium. Everything else in the university revolved around the lecture halls. Libraries, laboratories and even the playgrounds only provided repasts while you were out of the lectures. Inside the lecture hall it is many listening to one. Usually the major part of an hour went to the professor and the tail end took up brief interaction between the teacher and the taught. In short lectures are nothing short of broadcasts.

We are now in the 21st century. Information age. Preceded by the industrial age and the agricultural age. The industrial age at best provided free time helped by the great strides in industrial automation. People had to spend less time to to manufacture goods and their roles became more supervisory. Huge manufacturing plants and production lines took up the burden of mass production of goods ranging from textiles to automobiles.

Contrast this with the current scene and its possibilities for the future. The days are not far away for the academic brick and mortar behemoths to go the same route as the media giants of yore. Traditionally venerated print news media establishments, reeling under the crunch of dwindling readeship of their stuff off news stands, are cutting down on traditional infrastructuring and quickly restructuring themselves to the New Reality. The changes brought about by the mass consumption of the Internet to the news media will soon engulf the erstwhile hallowed centers of learning too.

If instant interactivity took the reader off the print media to the conveneience of the Net, similar drivers will motivate the responsive student off those lecture theaters to the comfortable convenience of his laptop screen.

The industrial automation that ushered in social change in the past centuries will be taken up by the information revolution to drive the coming great paradigm shift. Individualisation will result as education itself undergoes transformation through its gamut of knowledge-delivery ranging from curriculum planning till student testing.

Teachers will have to restructure their approach from one of pedagogy to a more interactive format where the student has opportunity to interrupt and revert. Tuned to the student's individual learning pace. The teacher must be able to encourage collaboration outside the classroom, something impossible in the current ambit. All of these are commonplace in the highly dynamic collaborative world made possible by the Net. The modern learning process can be best summarized as non-sequential, interactive, asynchronous, multi-tasked and highly collaborative. In reality each of these processes were undertaken by the student in the old ways too but in highly time-consuming and random modes often while approaching the dreaded examinations – a time for frenzied exercise for reintegration of thoughts and retrieval of memorized material in a hurry through a student coinage known as 'combined study'.

The combined study is a paradigm that can stretch from term start. Given the tools and the non-linear learning environment the student will feel more comfortable coming face to face with milestone events where not only his/her memory is put to test, but all that he has understood and assimilated through a process of integrating lecture room exposure with off-mainstream learning channels. Revolutionary changes in Internet usage habits are yet to find efficient utilisation in our schools and universities.

Students soon will have to be given choice. Surrounded as we are by unprecedented quantities of information archives available to the teacher as well as student at fingertips, the student of the future can hope to hand-pick the studies he/she wants, teachers playing the role of guides wih much less pedagogy and more of teamwork thrown in. Universities will become less of the assembly lines they are now.

Quality will improve as students will always find themselves envloped in a learning environ. Online collaboration will tie in combined study and teacher presence in one stroke. Intractive education at best will allow students to learn at their own pace allowing them time they can manage in ways that suit them best. They can combine work, part time work and family with studies without having to s sacrificing any.

Will the universities of the present time take note of the foreboding trends and align themselves to the emerging realities? If they don't they will follow the tragic route of the erstwhile automobile behemoths.

As students discover serious pursuit of knowledge just began with great tools, the likes of Wikipedia and Google will be but toys as new technologies of intelligence integration and semantics – cognition open more doors and lead to more exciting forms of learning with versions of 'online pedagogy' thrown in good measure. Many universities now offer lectures on line.

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