New media and higher education

It’s trite at this point to compare education and journalism as “industries” struggling to adapt in increasingly digital times. So, when Chris Hughes took to Medium to announce that he was looking to sell The New Republic, it was too easy to read the following sentence and to replace “company” with “institution,” or, better, “university.”

Yet I will be the first to admit that when I took on this challenge nearly four years ago, I underestimated the difficulty of transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company in today’s quickly evolving climate.

It was equally striking to then read Dave Winer’s take on the sale where he wrote:

What it means is that now the newsmakers and the people who want news are directly connected. 

The newsmakers don’t need the intermediaries to reach the people who they influence. 

If we replace “newsmakers” with “educators” or even “experts” and “people who want news” with students, we’re left with: “What it means is that now the educators and the students are directly connected. The educators don’t need the intermediaries to reach the people who they influence.” Who, then, are the intermediaries? If they are the publishers, we’re in the land of open educational resources. If they are institutions of higher education, we’re in the land of Oplerno, Skillshare, Rheingold U., etc. Y’all can discuss and decide that…

After reading about TNR and Winer’s take, I was a bit down thinking about higher ed. and how, in my opinion, for the most part, the institution has failed to understand the World Wide Web1 and its implications on society. Far too many educators in higher education are just ignoring new media and hoping it will all go away.

But, then, I was offered a glimmer of hope by my colleague David Croteau.

That post from the Online Journalism Blog (new to me) starts with “The media’s reaction to David Bowie‘s death from cancer early this morning demonstrates just how widely curation has become in journalism practice – and specifically, how it has become the web native version of the obituary.” The author did his own bit of curation to show how mainstream media outlets such as The Telegraph, Time, Sky News, etc. were generating dynamic multimodal, multimedia tributes to Bowie by curating bits from around the web. These MSM outlets are not exactly doing groundbreaking work here, but they aren’t just ignoring new media. They’re trying new forms of journalism that involve new forms of media. I’m also reminded of some of the really amazing things the New York Times is doing with NYT Interactive. See e.g. Dear Architects: Sound Matters.

These MSM outlets are trying to add new modes of journalism (curation); they are figuring out how new media augments journalism. I’m not saying that TNR failed to try some new things. I am, though, suggesting that new media don’t mark the end of “traditional” journalism institutions.

Too much of the narrative around online learning and technology in education is framed as a zero-sum game. “MOOCs will destroy higher education!” “The Internet means we’ll ultimately only have/need about 10 universities…” etc. It doesn’t have to be that way. In Winer’s terms, the challenge opportunity in front of higher education is as follows: How do we take advantage of the fact that now the educators and the students are directly connected. How do we take advantage of the fact that educators don’t need publishers to reach the people who they influence? How do we take advantage of new media and the modern web to augment human intellect?

  1. and, yes, I’m well aware that the Internet was born, largely, out of institutions of higher education []

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