Is Digital Culture Changing Academic Culture?

Evidence of change.

September 17, 2014

Is digital culture changing academic culture?

What are some of the touchstones of digital culture?

Digital culture is:

  • lightweight
  • agile
  • non-physical
  • rapidly evolving
  • non-hierarchical
  • impatient

These are not attributes normally associated with higher education.  Many of us, including me, love higher education precisely because it does not conform to the cultural whim of the moment.  The colleges and universities that we work at are solid and stable; rooted in history’s measured in decades (and sometimes centuries).  We expect that our colleges and universities will outlive us by many years.  We think and act for the long-term. 

Are we finding ways to preserve what is most valuable about traditional academic culture, while also incorporating the best elements of digital culture?

So many of us, for so many years, have been trying to manage increasing demands in the context of fiscal scarcity.  It has been difficult to comprehend the longer-term cultural shifts that are occurring on our campuses.  But if we look closely, and talk to the right people, we do see pockets of change. 

  • How many of you have been part of starting a new blended, low-residency or online program on your campus?
  • How many of you have participated in new programs for large-enrollment course re-design?
  • How many of you have attended or help put on faculty programs around teaching and learning, with an emphasis on active learning techniques?
  • How many of you have worked on projects where services that were once provided on campus, such as e-mail or storage or the LMS, are now rented as services from the cloud?
  • How many of you have led programs to digitize campus resources, reduce the amount of paper that is used, or access digital materials rather than purchasing paper books or journals?
  • How many of you are working to leverage new social media platforms to communicate with students, prospective students, alumni, and lifelong learners?

All of these efforts require not only new tools and platforms, but new ways of working.  They require working in teams.  They require rapid prototyping, quick iterations, and making changes based on data.  They are programs that probably have a short shelf-life, as changes are made to reflect both new learning and new tools.  

My theory is that higher ed is the best place to embrace, and participate in, digital culture.

Being mission driven buys you all sorts of degrees of freedom to experiment.  Having a solid base of tradition gives a foundation on which to build.  Being (mostly) non-profit means that experiments only need to pay for themselves, they don’t need to make a return on capital.   Colleges and universities tend to have a bunch of smart people working together, and smart people are the main ingredient for experimentation and inquiry.

Where do you see evidence of a new hybrid academic-digital culture on your campus?


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