Call it a noble experiment: only a month to re-imagine institutions with centuries of tradition and, some might say, baggage. But that’s exactly what the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media program pursued as it re-thought higher education in April.
Hacking Edu wrapped up this week, and MCDM Director Hanson Hosein said it became obvious that “the fundamental challenge facing higher education today is one of access” through affordable options. But the promise is that “technology helps resolve this.”
Subtitled “from Tower to Town Square,” the four events kicked off in early April with a Q&A featuring Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh opining on where the educational system is breaking down, as well as on how entrepreneurs and formal education should intersect. It continued with a dinner roundtable discussion of higher education influencers, a Four Peaks TV taping in UW’s Red Square, and concluded this week with featured speaker Erika Wagner, executive director of the X Prize Foundation.
The upshot for tech’s piece of the puzzle?
“I think we’ll see an increase in ‘blended solutions’ for traditional higher ed institutions that want to tackle cost issues: in-person classes are for subject matter that require face-to-face interaction, and you can refer students to online resources for more settled subject mater (such as mathematics),” Hosein suggested.
And while noting the continuing digital divide, he added, “there’s obviously a role for digital devices in the learning process generally, making it a more immersive, engaging experience through smartphones and tablets.”
Technology itself was used extensively throughout the month. Not just social media tools for the public conversation, but a “multimedia dinner table” was constructed for the advisory board dinner and discussion. “We embedded four cameras and two microphones that gave us 360-degree coverage,” Hosein described. “”It was a great way to capture the evening, as participants quickly forgot they were being recorded. So we called it the ‘Table of Truth.'”
MCDM students plan to continue the future-of-higher-ed public inquiry over the next few months “through a documentary or reality series.” The program also has begun conversations with organizations chartered with a similar mission, such as Startup Weekend EDU.
Hosein said despite the certification that a college degree still provides employers, change is inevitable: “Not only am I surprised to see how fast this same disruption is headed our way (as a digital media degree program that ironically, does not engage in online learning), but how quickly it has become part of the national conversation.”
Frank Catalano is a regular GeekWire columnist helping with vacation fill-in duty this week. You can follow Frank on Twitter @FrankCatalano.