My daughters get frustrated with trying to explain to friends what I do for a job. On a daily basis it looks a bit like faculty development, a bit like instructional design, a bit like strategic IT management. But of course, that’s not the part I talk about, despite it being the majority of my job. What I talk about is the simple vision.
The simple vision is this: I think institutions of higher education should be in the business of creating the digital educational infrastructure of the future. This ties together my earliest work from the 1990’s with student-produced online encyclopedias, to my work with Cognitive Arts building simulation-based courseware for Columbia, to my promotion of OpenCourseWare and OER. It underpins my fascination with the strengths and weaknesses of wiki, with federation as model of cross-institutional collaboration, with my recent work to define the emerging practice I call Choral Explanations.
I don’t believe this infrastructure will replace face-to-face education. I don’t think it will make companies billions of dollars. This educational infrastructure is not a unicorn, or a new app.
In fact, for me, it’s not a disruption — it’s a continuation. Throughout the centuries, the problem universities have aimed to solve is how to create new knowledge and effectively preserve and disseminate it.
Ultimately, I’d like to live in a world where students, researchers, faculty, and staff all work together to build this digital infrastructure: content, tools, and new practices that could not only help us in our educational mission, but change the way society goes about its work and propel us out of our current productivity slump.
For me, the most depressing thing is that this dream seems foreign to the modern university. People act like this is an odd dream, a diversion. I feel like it’s the old dream, and it’s one I’d like to reclaim. Should we cede the digital aspects of knowledge production and dissemination to others to handle, or will we take on these technologies and methods as a continuation of our core historical concerns? Are we defined by the printed book, the lecture, and the research paper, or are we driven by a deeper and more timeless mission?