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Author Says College Ed Must Change

Kamenetz discussed the future of online education and its effects on social communities.

Heights Staff

Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 23:02

Anya Kamenetz, author and media expert, spoke to the Boston College community on Tuesday afternoon about the future of technology in education. Kamenetz’s books, Generation Debt: The New Economics of Being Young and DIY U: Edpunks, Edupreneurs, and The Coming Transformation of Higher Education, speak to the rising economic problems that young people are facing and how university tradition is being infiltrated by technology. In her presentation, Kamenetz offered insight on the future of online university education and how the realities of expensive higher education could be aided by an online college experience.

In his introduction to Kamenetz’s talk, University Librarian Thomas Wall asked questions about how BC could incorporate technology better in its curriculum.

“The digital blend, as I call it, raises many questions for the academy, and some are related to whether the academy will thrive or survive and whether the digital blended world and will facilitate a convergence or create a divide,” Wall said.

Wall continued by explaining that the online experience of education poses a threat to what BC values in its traditions and unique campus community. He explained that BC has been “practical and strategic” with its approach to online learning, and that the University has been exploring more ways to incorporate technology into the classroom experience. Wall said that the main goal is to enhance faculty-student engagement and to incorporate technology into that experience.

Kamenetz began her talk by asking the audience, “What is the meaning of student engagement?” She explained that there is a range of things that people want out of their education, and there are three factors that contribute to how students engage with learning.

Kamenetz offered data that shows that with the rising cost of education, 67 percent of Bachelors in Arts graduates are in debt, and that the average student debt is $27, 253. She explained that students have to weigh the costs and benefits of seeking higher education, and that attendance at universities has fallen as a result of the cost. The question of the relevance of higher education is looming as well, as students ask themselves if it is worth the cost, and whether or not the college curriculum will prepare people for careers in elite industries. Kamenetz incorporated different research strategies, like Moore’s Law, which explains the evolution of microcomputing, to show the rising benefits of technology in education and how it will reduce costs and allow better access to higher education for more people.

Kamenetz illustrated many growing online programs that allow for self-directed learning, and provide corporate careers for individuals without degrees. Github, for example, is an online workshop where members can work on different computer codes together interactively, and have their work recorded in an online portfolio. Kamenetz explained that many people are being employed by major companies off of this website because the portfolio showcases their knowledge in programming and skillfulness, whether or not they have a degree in computer science.

Kamenetz’s main argument for online education experiences is that it allows for better access, especially for those the system is not serving. As for the question of what would happen to the traditional college experience, Kamenetz compared it to what the rise in technology has done for the music business. She explained that while some artists and producers have suffered with the expansion of the online music world, as more people hear more music, they are compelled to go to concerts. Kamenetz suggested that being a part of an online education community would actually inspire a social community as well, through study groups and other networks. She acknowledged the importance of human connection and how physical campuses are an important outlet, but argued that with online education, universities would be able to connect people on and offline through learning and course material.

Kamenetz suggested a hybridization of the current infrastructure of university education to incorporate a backdrop of technology in order to provide a college experience and also attempt to eliminate costs. She also suggested that with online education, courses could be designed for basic needs and provide more specialized education in particular fields to make degrees more relevant for certain career paths. n

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