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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Interaction Economy meets Interactive Education?

In searching for information on personalized homepages today, I came across the following information on Tim Leberecht's blog iPlot: According to a McKinsey & Company study of US economic activity, "Raising the productivity of employees whose jobs can’t be automated is the next big performance challenge." The study argues that "as more companies come to specialize in core activities and outsource the rest, they have greater need for workers who can interact with co-workers, partners, and vendors," supported by highly personalized organizing and communication tools. 40 percent of labor activity, says McKinsey, comes not from making things or from traditional transactions but from what the consultancy calls the "Interaction Economy," which it defines as the "searching, coordinating, and monitoring required to exchange good[s] or services."

Think of how this impacts higher education! It boggles the mind. The whole purpose of education must change. It's not about defining a set body of knowledge that every learned individual must know. It is more about how we enable students to efficiently/effectively access information and collaborate in solving problems. The traditional behaviorist model worked for the industrial age, but today's service-driven economy requires more. Students must be allowed and encouraged to create their own meanings--based on their experiences and interactions with others. We also need to make sure that they have a wide variety of experiences--exposure to alternative ways of thinking and approaching problems. I am reminded of Taco Bell's slogan "Think outside the bun" and now Wendy's new promotion which suggests that just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean that it is right. Just because this was the way you or your parents were taught doesn't mean that it is the "right way" or only way to teach/learn.

Higher education (especially the 4-year institutions) has been the bastion of tradition--changing slowly. The technical schools and 2-year institutions have seen the need to change to meet the needs of their student population. Most adopted technology in teaching and learning years ago, offering online programs (not just online courses). 4-years institutions held out--sticking to chalk or dry erase markers and the lecture model. The professor was hired for his/her content knowledge, right? Then it is up to him/her to pass on that knowledge to students passively waiting to receive it. The problem comes when the students are passive--learning is active/interactive. Students must be involved in the process. Web 2.0's user-created content tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc.) allow that interaction--in a public sphere. No longer must students create, synthesize, and produce for just the instructor or classroom. Instead, their ideas can go out into cyberspace for others to read, comment, and digest. There is an authenticity to this kind of publication.

CAVEAT: This also means that we, as instructors, can no longer "control" what and how our students learn. How does this affect assessment--what exactly are we assessing, then?

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