• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


The MIT Report

Issues for every college and university.

July 31, 2013

For every college and university in the country, the MIT report should be the focus of conversation until such time as each and every institution finds or aligns resources to provide students with competencies and conversation about the questions that the report raises.

In a facile manner, we talk about "digital natives."  We may marvel and how fast youth can text or use the latest app to meet, greet and make sweet.  But it is understood by almost anyone who works with students how little they understand about the intersection of technology, law, and the market and the influence that this combination of forces has on their behaviors.

The MIT report, masterfully compiled by Hal Abelson, is a tremendous opportunity for all of higher education to get smarter about this vast area that surrounds virtually the entire experience of youth.  In an information economy and a digital world, not to be more aware of the countervailing issues that law, responsible use of technology and market pressures place on us all is education out of step with the realities of this century no matter how proficient it may be about any one discipline.  Moreover, most institutions have the resources at their fingertips already, but not the kind of insight to combine them in a manner that teaches fundamental ethics or encourages self conscious behaviors.

Does your institution have computer science and engineering?  A law and/or a business school?  Economics?  Philosophy and ethics?  Social sciences?  Humanities?  A library?  An IT organization?  Lawyers?  Now pull it together into instruction on how the Internet works, what its governance is (or isn't); what are its business models?  Applicable laws (all of them!)?  Patterns of use?  Privacy implications (or not)?  E-commerce? E-governance?  Implications on adolescent development of social networking?  I am simplifying, but just want to provide a taste of what some of the pieces are that an institution can put together to provide instruction.

Here is how I would begin the instruction:  Has our political culture degenerated from an ideal of citizenship to one of consumerism?  No matter how one answers the question, the "Internet" factors into the discussion … to leave it out would be the only grounds for a failing grade.

Higher education circles and the journals that represent our work every day are filled with articles about our shortcomings and/or the policy issues that challenge us: access, cost/price, value, traditional v. distance education, act like a business, don't act like a business, what impact do publishers or network security or regulatory compliance or a thousand other woes have on our bottom lines, and how does all of that translate into our missions?  Of all the buzz words, the one that makes the most sense to me is "relevancy," which I refer to not in the vocational sense, but from a place of simple realism.  And we will never make our education relevant, no matter whether it is at MIT or a small liberal arts college until we educate ourselves and our students seriously about the information and digital world in which we all together must live, work, and love.


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