The future of universities: a virtual reality?

This morning. I stumbled across a line of questioning about the future of universities that I find unsettling, probably because I’ve invested a lot of time and have developed quite a few skills as a writer and teacher and would like to land on  solid ground in the near future. Specifically, a March 7 “Wired Campus” blog in the Chronicle of Higher Ed asked the question: Could Many Universities Follow Borders Bookstores Into Oblivion?

The question is a bit doomsday-esque … but bricks and mortars organizations are proving to be at risk in the digital revolution.  The blog post is an interview with Richard DeMillo and Paul Baker, director and associate director of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities, who consider their center an equivalent to a Silicon Valley garage for higher education.  I  don’t know about that – seems like an officially run center located in an institution could never be the equivalent of an entrepreneur’s garage.

Still …  in a February 22 blog post for the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, DeMillo writes that “incumbents” misread new technologies and become “relics” before they even realize what is happening.  He uses the newspaper industry as an example, which does support his point and makes me hyperventilate a bit.

The Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) is supposed to encourage innovation in university teaching and research … incubate risk-taking to figure out what best practices in the 21st century digital universe would look like for higher education.    They’ve got lots of good ideas – which may get lost somewhat in the doomsday language – and yet it’s the crisis language that got my attention and probably a lot of other people’s attention too.

Jeff Selingo, editorial director for The Chronicle of Higher Education, devoted his Sept 27, 2011, blogpost to the opening of C21U. He called it “If Engineers Were to Rethink Higher Ed’s Future.”  At the end of his blog, he writes: “At a kickoff event for the center … I moderated a wide-ranging discussion with some leading thinkers on the future of higher ed, and among my questions was this: If you had a chance to run this center, what one project would you put on its agenda?”

Some of the ideas he found most interesting are ones that I agree with as directions for universities:  Improve Social Engagement, Create Incubators, Interactive Learning, and Stop Teaching Subjects.  Luckily, I’m studying and teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University – a public university that is exploring these in pockets all over campus.

Put in this context, perhaps it’s a future to be embraced.  Is the old version, based on medieval monastic training, really working that well for most people?

I’d be sorry to see a business model applied, however, since there are research questions – especially in the humanities – that need to be asked and there does need to be a place of reflection to do so.  That’s what universities have provided a space for and I’d hate to see that disappear – the same way I treasure a brick & mortar bookstore – for discovery.  I don’t always know what I’m looking for until I stumble across it and I’ve found the same thing to be true in education.   Algorithms can be too smart for lucky accidents and that’s not a world I want to live in.


latest post from Eastern Shore Stories project

I haven’t written about my oral history project in a while, mostly because I’ve had to work on other PhD related stuff … like passing comps and starting a new semester.  But I have been posting excerpts from the interviews I’ve done on the blog Eastern Shore Stories .  Here’s today’s post which I called “I guess you know how to drive, don’t you?” 
I was driving a Model T truck in the field. They were loading ‘em up, you know, and going along the rows where the barrels were, when I was ten years old. I was ten in May, and in June, July, we were digging those potatoes. I didn’t drive it out on the road then, but I drove it. I was driving before I was old enough, old enough to have a license.
We only had one state trooper in Accomack County, and that was Harry Parker. He lived at Accomac, but his wife and my grandfather were first cousins. That’s right. And he told Papa one day, said “that boy is driving, and I know it. And I know he’s got no license. Now I’m not gonna pull him because I know he’s got no license. But if he gets in trouble, I got to carry the law.” 
So, one day, I decided to go down there and get my license. Well, I wasn’t eligible to go down there, see. I went by myself, and I went in the office at the Accomac courthouse. That little book, I knew that. He didn’t even have to ask me, I could give him all the answers. And he went through all that and he said, “well I guess now we’ll have to see how you do driving. Drive around the block and see how you park between the sticks.”
He had never smiled a bit – he made a good officer. He could scare people just with that look, you know. The only time he smiled, when he got ready to get in the car, he was on the passenger side. He said, “I guess you know how to drive, don’t you?” And I said, “Yes sir, I think so.” I couldn’t help [but] laugh – he was laughing too. ‘Cause he knew I’d been driving, you know, a long time. I rode around the block and parked back. I usually parked pretty good in a parking place. And I got my license. And guess how much it cost then? I think that was about ‘36 or ‘35. Fifty cents.
A lot of people were driving that didn’t have them. But that was wrong for me to ride down to Accomac to the courthouse and park right in front of there with no more license than – well my dog’s out here somewhere – than that dog has.
from an interview with Norman Mason, summer 2009

For more excerpts: Eastern Shore Stories

farm life oral history blog live

Here it is … the farm life oral history blog.
Eastern Shore Stories

About ten days ago, I removed the privacy setting on the Eastern Shore Stories blog, but I’ve been dragging my feet telling people about it. I don’t know why I’m going for the opposite of buzz.

It’s a simple blog – excerpts from the interviews, as well as relevant photos if I have them, posted occasionally on Thursdays. I decided to post only one excerpt from each interview, although I may change my mind on that later, but that way I can keep posting new material through the lecture that’s scheduled at the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society next April.

The one thing I haven’t figured out yet is how to make this RSS-feed enabled. And I haven’t created a Facebook page or a Twitter account to support it. Since I’m only posting every two weeks or so, I need a way to let people know when new posts are there. I love this development in blogging … that it doesn’t have to be an every day thing, but that – through news feeds – I can give and get notice of longer-form blogging.

My style, as a blogger, is definitely on the quiet side. As for why I’m going for the opposite of buzz with Eastern Shore Stories … I feel very protective of this place, these people, this material. I hesitate to share it digitally with the world in cyberspace because I don’t want it lifted or misinterpreted or misused – so easy to happen. But I don’t own the place or this material … and I know from my uncle’s sudden death that the stories can be quickly silenced. They live orally with the people who tell them and the people who hear them. I love the stories that have been shared with me and they’ll live with me now until I’m gone too. I feel honored.

art moment: comic book artist Eddie Campbell

elephant man at night, From Hell

I’m doing a presentation for my Reading Comics class on From Hell – a book written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Eddie Campbell. It’s a graphic novel retelling of the Jack the Ripper story. My cohort is a fiction writer and wanted to present on Moore’s work so my part of the assignment is to research and talk about Eddie Campbell and his work.

I got the good end of this arrangement. Campbell is a very cool comic book artist – originally Scottish, but now lives in Australia – and I like his independent work much better than From Hell … at least what I can find piecemeal published along with interviews. He’s published too many to list here. Three I’d like to track down are Bacchus, The Fate of the Artist, and The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard.

an interview with Campbell
a 30-min video presentation on BookSlut

Even better … he blogs, regularly … here’s the link:
Eddie Campbell’s blog

a radio interview with a musician about his memoir, heard on-line

How many media is that? a radio podcast of an interview with a musician about his published book. Now that’s mixed media.

I enjoyed this interview on Studio 360. Stewart Copeland was drummer with The Police, but has also garnered quite a few awards as a film composer, and he grew up in Beirut, the son of a CIA spy (although he didn’t learn that until he was in college).

Studio 360 blog re: Stewart Copeland interview

Also worth listening to this week – a piece on Disney music.