dinosaurs looking up at the incoming comet?

October 23rd, 2004 by Ross Scaife

From the CHE’s weblog, reporting on Educause 2004:

Former U. of Michigan President Warns of ‘Great Change’ in Higher Education

OCTOBER 20, NOON — Educause 2004 has attracted more than 7,000 people from 43 different countries, scores of colleges, and hundreds of tech companies. The tech talk is thick, the tech knowledge vast, and the tech obsessions are almost a religion for some. So far, all of the attendees appear to be fully human.

And now some of them might be more worried than they were when they stepped off their planes. James J. Duderstadt, the president emeritus of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, opened the conference not with a pep talk but with rather unsettling predictions. He said the future of colleges and universities is more than uncertain in the digital age — it might be downright threatened.

He quoted the business guru Peter Drucker as saying that campuses will be “relics” in 30 years. Mr. Duderstadt also cited Frank Rhodes, the former president of Cornell University, as having said that colleges in the digital age are like dinosaurs looking up at the incoming comet.


Unless college presidents try to understand technology, Mr. Duderstadt said, extinction is a threat. “This is not an activity that can be dumped on the backs of CIO’s,” he warned.

In Mr. Duderstadt’s view, technology has drastically changed the orientation of the classroom already. The faculty member is becoming more of a guide or a coach, he said, while students have gone from being passive learners to active learners and now “synthesizers” of knowledge.

Unfortunately, faculty members haven’t kept up, he said. While the average student burns up hours of spare time playing video games on an Xbox, he said, “Xbox gaming consoles have more processing power than most faculty have ever seen in their lifetime.”

Administrators are doing no better, he said. If technology is like a tiger, chasing down institutions in academe, most administrators aren’t worried about running faster than the tiger, Mr. Duderstadt said. “They think, We just need to run faster than our competition.”

He recalled the way that American colleges changed within a single generation after the Civil War. They shed their aristocratic nature and grew from enrolling hundreds to thousands of students.

“The sense is that we are at the edge of another great change in higher education, except this time it’s global,” Mr. Duderstadt said. “Will the university as we know it now exist a generation from now? That’s a disturbing question, but a question we have to ask.” — S.C.

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