Thursday, October 15, 2020

Twitching Professors, Outsourced Parenting, Digital Transformation and the University Experience

“Even our custodians have a role to play in transforming our students,” explained Dr. Jack Crumbly of Tuskegee University, when describing the value of the “university experience.” The future is about “universities without borders,” predicted Dr. Marek Kowalkiewicz, a professor who studies Twitch gamers to improve his digital classroom teaching experience.  “It’s really about what the students want, and what those business models look like,” added Dr. Bill Griffiths, a professor with 52-years of educational experience.  These are just a few of the comments I recorded over the past few weeks while interviewing professors in higher education.

I noted four particular findings from my interviews and research:

1. It’s about the experience of learning and growing in a community focused on higher education
2. Universities must deliver for both students and parents
3. The importance of mentors, professors and engagement 
4. New players and business models are impacting the future of higher education

What does a “university experience” mean to an eighteen-year-old? Independence?  Relationships?  Parties?  Personal growth?  New friends?  New beginnings?  Escape?  YES!  To parents it may mean something completely different like - HELP!  Help me transform this obstinate teenager into an employable, self-sufficient, and responsible adult. No matter what the student’s or parent’s goals are, it will be difficult for these to be accomplished alone on a laptop in the family basement.  

Repeatedly in my interviews and discussions with professors the value and importance of an immersive learning and growing experience within a university community was emphasized.  It was my impression as a result of these discussions, that many of us underestimate the personal growth that takes place as part of the “university experience,” and focus too much on the acquired skills and degrees aspect.  Degrees can be achieved through multiple channels, but personal growth takes a purposeful village.

Online education has been around long enough that the basics are well understood.  The difficulties remain the ability to provide engagement and social connections for students in a digital environment.  Helping students feel a part of a supportive university community and a member of something important and meaningful is critical, and not easily done in digital only environments.  More work and focus are needed in this area.

If a student is just interested in acquiring skills and getting employed, companies like Google are now offering online classes that are treated as equal to university classes.  If a person successfully passes these Google courses, Google is willing to hire them without a university education.  The student, although potentially employable, will miss out on the personal growth and “university experience.”  It seems to me our communities will be less for it.

All three professors I interviewed last week mentioned the value of mentorship, guidance and advise that professors can provide when there are opportunities to form close relationships on a physical campus.  “Not all students come to us with backgrounds that enable them to easily understand a subject’s context,” Dr. Crumbly shared.  A professor working closely with a student can quickly recognize this context challenge and can help them remediate it.

Professors and instructors of all kinds are powerful professional contacts as well.  When resumes are thin, a good referral from a trusted professor can be just what a student needs to gain a foot in the door of a career opportunity.

It seems to me that the Covid-19 pandemic is helping to spotlight and clarify the required technical deliverables now and in the future for higher education.  Digital technologies should be used to enhance the “university experience” for students, parents and university staff, while providing opportunities for social engagement.  Digital platforms are valuable as a way of protecting students and staff during times of danger, they can remove geographic barriers, eliminate scheduling conflicts, reduce travel and parking issues and provide additional and alternative learning channels.

Watch "Higher Education and Pandemic Induced Digital Transformation" with Dr. Marek Kowalkiewicz, Part 1 and Part 2 on YouTube now.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.