University 2.0?


I've been thinking about what some of the possible implications of this various "2.0" stuff might be on Universities (or, I guess, on academic institutions in general). Likely nothing too earthshattering here, just some thoughts that were sparked over the weekend while thinking about the upcoming BCEdOnline fireside chat we're planning.

Disclaimer: This blog entry is written by myself as an individual, not as a representative of the University of Calgary. I'm not advocating for anything here, just thinking out loud about what some of the implications might be if some trends continue for another 5/10/20 years.

If we assume that things like "web 2.0" tools, and concepts like the "PLE" are going to mature and evolve, and that individuals will be able to effectively manage their own online identities and resources, that has some implications for a University.

If a person is able to manage their own information, outside of the IT-mandated technobubble, they have the ability to negate any monopolistic tendencies of an institution. That is to say, if a student (or faculty member) is able to manage their own online identity and published resources, without the need for direct intervention by an Institution, they will be able to operate outside the boundaries of any single University. Extrapolating this, a student who is able to have relationships with more than one University, and who manages their own PLE, will be able to select what kind of relationship they want to have with each University. Perhaps they take their first-year biology courses from University X, chemistry from University Y, physics from MIT, philosophy from Cambridge, etc... Perhaps a professor is able to teach students who have relationships with any number of institutions (and are located anywhere they're technically able to access the professor and course materials). In which case, to which University do the student or professor "belong"? Does that even make sense any more?

If individuals are in control of their institutional relationships, what is the role of the institution? Previously, it was (at least partially) to provide services that were not available to individuals without institutional support. Things like email, network access, classrooms, registration systems, scheduling systems, access to researchers, and access to publications were all offered by the University to its faculty, students and staff. If individuals are able to access any of these services as effectively (or moreso) on their own, what is left for the University? Perhaps the primary role becomes as a research institution? It's still hard for individuals to conduct hard research on their own (chemicals, infrastructure, safety and security, protocols, etc...). Maybe Universities will become hubs of research activities, with teaching and learning under the auspices of the individuals that choose to have a relationship with a University?

So, the Institution becomes a place for individuals to come together to conduct research, and perhaps to facilitate discourse. Teaching and learning activities are perhaps supported by the Institution, but managed by individuals in any number of locations. What happens to curriculum? Degrees? Tenure? How different is this from where we are now?

I'm sure Stephen (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven), David Wiley (eg.), and many others have put much more thought into this than I have.


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