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The Ed Tech Sonic Boom

Greg Easterbrook is making two big arguments in Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed.

Future Prosperity: Due to a combination of global trade, the spread of information technology, and the movement toward representative democracies, the 21st century will usher in unprecedented levels and diffusion of global prosperity.

July 13, 2010
 
 

Greg Easterbrook is making two big arguments in Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed.

Future Prosperity: Due to a combination of global trade, the spread of information technology, and the movement toward representative democracies, the 21st century will usher in unprecedented levels and diffusion of global prosperity.

Current Anxiety: The growth of prosperity will probably fail to make us happy. Instead, the ascendance of entrepreneurial capitalism and the rise of knowledge work at the expense of institutions, stability and security will make us all more anxious.

This seems to be a fair description of how life within the higher ed world will unfold as well. Would anyone trade the your college experience to the one that our kids will be able to receive? When I was in college the predominant instructional methodology was a lecturer talking at us for 50 minutes at a time. We had some great lecturers, and some lousy lecturers, and basically we accepted that this is how things were and we were lucky if we happened to take a course with a dynamic and passionate teacher.

Today, we are able to leverage a set of well-developed and stable technologies to build in pedagogically advanced active learning methods into a wide variety of courses and modes of instructional delivery. To be a great teacher it is no longer a prerequisite to be a dynamic and gifted lecturer. Rather, faculty can partner with learning designers, librarians, and teaching specialists to create dynamic, student-centered courses that allow students interact and create with the curriculum in ways that were impossible before the advent of technology enabled and supported classes.

However, these improvements in course quality made possible by the pairing of learning design methods and technology have brought with them a new set of challenges. Life was perhaps simpler back in the days when I first started to teach (in mid 1990s), when course design primarily meant crafting a syllabus. Yes, we had Scantron machines transparencies and PowerPoint, but we did not have the tools to enable active learning within a large course setting. We could make the lecture better at the margins, more class discussion - small groups etc., but the basic format of delivery was basically set. Today, students and progressive faculty I think expect that we can do better - and that every class is an opportunity to experiment with methods to encourage our students to transition from the passive to active mode. We know that learning is both social and requires engagement, we don't retain what we don't manipulate and create.

All these opportunities for improved teaching mean that we all end up spending more time on our classes and more time experimenting (and sometimes failing) with new teaching methods and tools. This shift also means that we need to shift resources and inputs into the teaching process, a change in the productivity equation that can (and should) disrupt the traditional economics of higher ed.

Easterbrook is convinced that the next few years will bring about opportunities and challenges that can scarcely be imagined, but will leave us all better off as individuals and as a society. I think we are in for a similar ride in higher ed.

Are any of you planning on reading Sonic Boom? I think that this would be an amazing book to teach a 1 credit mini course around. Easterbrook does a good job of reading his own work in the audiobook format. His last book, The Progress Paradox, is one of my all-time favorites. Sonic Boom is a terrific follow-up.

What are you reading?

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