The New "Space" of the University in the Digital Age

The New "Space" of the University in the Digital Age

Carl A. Raschke (University of Denver, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 5
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch213
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Abstract

While critics of the new computer-mediated learning styles utter jeremiads about the impending apocalypse of higher education in general, technophiles argue that the changes are all salutary. In fact, some see no difference between faculty cultures and online and traditional schools (Johnstone, 2001). In the same vein, the proliferation of digital classrooms across the instructional spectrum and online learning have touched off a firestorm of controversy concerning the “effectiveness” of new computer-mediated pedagogies versus traditional face-to-face, or “presential,” instruction. Various studies have been conducted and the findings circulated (Smith, Smith, & Boone, 2000). Each research project purports to demonstrate the degree to which educational outcomes are enhanced or diminished by distance learning formats, such as the replacement of lectures by interactive Web chats or discussion forums, the use of e-mail for office hours, and so forth. As with performance assessment models in general, so many of these research initiatives cancel each other out. At the same time, they conceal the investigator’s own biases or wishes without examining assumptions. They also betray notoriously imprecise general concepts of what the studies themselves are actually measuring.
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How Is Digital Technology Really Reshaping The Culture Of Higher Education?

While critics of the new computer-mediated learning styles utter jeremiads about the impending apocalypse of higher education in general, technophiles argue that the changes are all salutary. In fact, some see no difference between faculty cultures and online and traditional schools (Johnstone, 2001). In the same vein, the proliferation of digital classrooms across the instructional spectrum and online learning have touched off a firestorm of controversy concerning the “effectiveness” of new computer-mediated pedagogies versus traditional face-to-face, or “presential,” instruction. Various studies have been conducted and the findings circulated (Smith, Smith, & Boone, 2000).

Each research project purports to demonstrate the degree to which educational outcomes are enhanced or diminished by distance learning formats, such as the replacement of lectures by interactive Web chats or discussion forums, the use of e-mail for office hours, and so forth. As with performance assessment models in general, so many of these research initiatives cancel each other out. At the same time, they conceal the investigator’s own biases or wishes without examining assumptions. They also betray notoriously imprecise general concepts of what the studies themselves are actually measuring.

One of the basic problems in comparing computer-centered courses with conventional ones is that the common definition of outcomes varies from field to field and subject matter to subject matter. Such definitions themselves have to be revised in a distributed learning ambience. Just as theoretical physics in the 20th century made the epochal discovery that all experimental results are observer-dependent, instructional theorists in the current era A.D. (“after digitization”) must recognize that the character and quality of educational experience is contingent on the larger context of both interpersonal and electronic transactions that take place between the learner and the accessible learning universe.

Since at least the turn of the millennium, the debate over electronic course delivery has shifted to discussion concerning what kinds of computer-prosthetized learning strategies meet the goals, including financial targets, of higher education. In many important respects, the very notion of what used to be termed “distance education” has become irrelevant in the digital age. Increasingly, such expressions as “online education,” or “e-learning,” are replacing the idea of education at a distance (Weigel, 2000). As Carr-Chellman and Duchastel (2000) have noted:

the new online paradigm calls not so much for providing instruction at a distance, as for making available learning resources and instructional activities to students. This holds true wherever the students are (just down the street or on another continent) and whenever the students need the resources and activities. This is not dissimilar to the move toward just-in-time learning in training environments within corporate America. (p. 242)

Once a highly specialized and marginalized learning culture within the standard American university, online education is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Estimates indicate that, within the coming years, more than three-quarters of mainstream institutions of higher learning in the United States will have availed themselves of online educational methodologies as integral components of traditional programs (Schrum, 2000).

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