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In this 21st century, technologies are changing the landscape of industry and society at a rate not previously documented. Are our courses keeping up?

I recall teaching communication technology classes in 1972 on the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois. We felt as though the world was changing rapidly enough. Students were standing in line to punch out computer cards to run FORTRAN 66 programs. However, the Arpanet, the predecessor of the internet, was just in very early development stages, and the World Wide Web was two decades in the future. The essential rich communication and collaboration tools through which so many advances have since been leveraged had not yet been deployed. Artificial intelligence was science fiction. In those lazy days of change, one might be able to get away with using a course syllabus or a textbook two years in a row!

In most fields that kind of slow rollout is not the case today. Advances are not measured decade by decade. “State of the art” is changing month by month in many fields. Not only are technologies changing, but applications are proliferating, industries are emerging, new consumer markets are sprouting and the road map for the future is clear only for the near term.

Our learners may be one, two or three years away from entering, or re-entering, the workforce. We must make every effort to ensure that our teaching will still be relevant those few years ahead. Yet I fear that far too many of our colleagues are using the same texts, the same syllabi, and sharing the same -- now stale -- facts in their classes with not enough attention to the changes that technologies and social shifts are making in their field. Granted, the rate of change in Greek history and foreign language may not be as rapid as other areas, but their social context, relevance to today’s society and to the near future are surely changing as rapidly as is society as a whole.

As faculty members, we are called upon to understand not only our discipline, but also the broader context in which our course content is applied not only today, but more importantly in the years to come. If we teach a course based on today’s use of information, that will likely be years out of date when the learner is in a position to meaningfully apply the course content. Dated knowledge is a terrible disservice to our learners, our colleagues and the reputation of our program and university.

The speed of textbook publishing has not improved much over the years. Writer’s Digest suggests:

With our rules established above, the typical time it takes for a writer to go from book contract to publication is usually somewhere in the nine months to two years area. Many factors come into play for this range of outcomes, including the size of the press and how far out they plan their production schedule.

Depending upon timing alignment with academic term start dates and distribution, it may well take longer to reach the students. And the next edition may be even more years away.

So, how can we ensure our students are given information and insights that will be timely and relevant when they commence their careers? How can we teach our courses through the windshield, looking forward, rather than through the rearview mirror?

The key is to turn to current materials to keep your classes up-to-date. Open educational resources are proliferating, not only in formal OER texts, but in open research journals, government databases and publicly shared reports. The turnaround time for OER publications is nearly instant depending upon the format desired and the level of peer review used.

Myths surrounding the efficacy of OER are many. In a blog post from TAA Abstract, “Top 9 Myths About OER Publishing,” several leading scholars in the field clarify the misperceived obstacles to publication and use of OER in offering timely materials for classes. The quality of the materials is equal to or better in many cases than those acquired from traditional publishers. The flexibility, relevance and timeliness of OER materials extend far beyond their low cost.

As we enter the fourth Industrial Revolution, we will see technologies changing the workforce, creating new fields, outdating some career paths while creating new ones and shifting society in ways we have yet to imagine. The increasing rate of change shows no signs of abating. Increasingly, we are under pressure as educators to ensure that what we teach is not outdated. We must not be teaching for jobs and career paths that are dwindling away to the dustbin of history. It is incumbent on us to perform the due diligence to assure that what we are teaching will be more relevant tomorrow than yesterday.

Are you and your colleagues teaching through the windshield or the rearview mirror? What steps are you taking to bring new materials and fresh experiences to your classes? Will your teaching hold up through five years? Who is leading the charge to make your curriculum relevant to tomorrow?

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