Blog Post

A Dying Breed: the excitement of being the last generation of traditional higher education

I was riding a bus to Duke University’s east campus the other day when I had a sudden epiphany.  I was complaining to a friend of mine about how inept my mom is when it comes to any type of technology.  In response, my friend said that he feared the day when we would be those people, and our children would be using technologies we can’t even imagine possible today.  I was suddenly humbled, realizing that I shouldn’t mock my parents when they can’t send an email or watch a video online or text message.        

This past semester, I’ve been taking a class by Professor Davidson called “This is Your Brain on the Internet,” which focused on 21st century social media and communication.  Much of the class was spent remarking on our generation’s attachment to the Internet and our ability to communicate and interact in ways our parent’s generation never could.  We’ve learned to share information and collaborate online through endless forms of social networking, as we gasp when people say they can remember the days before the Internet.  We spent much of the class praising our generation’s new skills, so that by the end of the semester, I was feeling pretty confident that we were super-humans. 

That is, until I had my epiphany.  After that fateful moment, I began to dwell on the idea that my children will most likely laugh at me when I say that I remember signing up for Facebook when it was first created by a group of Harvard students (and I certainly won’t admit to them that I had to wait a year to join because high school students weren’t yet allowed to join this cool new site.) 

When speaking to another friend about this horrifying thought, I realized that I will probably be outdated much more quickly than I originally assumed, probably way before I have my own children.  She said that she heard students in the second grade at the elementary school she attended in New York City are already making virtual maps of the school on their computers.  She remarked, “I certainly don’t know how to do that!”  And I have to admit, neither do I.         

However, as I began to look in to elementary education today, I was more inspired than anxious.  Another topic of Professor Davidson’s class was the inability of higher education to adapt through time.  Academic organization in high schools and universities today looks strikingly similar to the institutions of our parent’s generation, even though business and communication have changed drastically.  Davidson’s class fights the norm by being “peer-driven, peer-assessed, and peer-led,” in an attempt to teach us the real skills we will need to conquer when we graduate and leave the educational world of analytical essays and standardized tests. 

So when I saw the new forms of digital teaching taking place in lower and middle schools, I was excited that we may finally be moving in a new academic direction.  New national educational standards are challenging the deeply rooted principles of the past, and this is incredibly exciting, even if the children receiving this education are rapidly out-smarting me. 



Finn Lesile your reflections are so true, many of my students expect HE to be the pincale of their learning experience through the use of technology, however little has changed over the last twenty years.  I certainly know of some degree programs where laboratory write ups in the last few years have been required to be word processed, I would like to add this was not at my current institution.    All to soon students arrive at HE find in their first year and first semster, to discover the limitation of the approaches adopted, and the dawning realisation that HE is actually further behind any high school or further education college in terms of using technology for learning.  I never forgot one student five years ago announcing when he heard I was planning to podcast MP4s of my lectures that he was disappointed on his arrival at University that this type of approach was not more common, he was surprised at the lack of radical use of tehcnology in the learning, teaching and assessment of his course in comparison to his previous education.  

As to whether in reality did I podcast MP4 my lectures, answer is no as at the time I had exhausted the contents management server space and my educational research showed that audio podcasts of my lectures were as effective for student learning purposes.  However,  as an educational technology research I am always experimenting, developing and utilsing new technology to enhance and develop my students learing and experience.  Currently I am avid iPhone user, utilising apps to enahnce the student experience and student learning.  Equally I am active in researching as to how students are using their smartphone apps to support their learning.  But I am the exception to the rule in my department and in recent years I have found high schools and further education colleges more willing to try and adopt my techniques than my immediate HE colleagues.  


Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for a great post, and also some really interesting comments from Anne Nortcliffe.

Great to get a student voice on this, and the course on 'This is Your Brain on the Internet' sounds really interesting.

You may be interested in my post over at Nature Scitable (The Perfect Storm: Tertiary Education in the UK) in which I mention your post, and also add some of my thoughts on how the face of University education is changing.