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Reshaping the Higher Education Landscape

Posted: May 21, 2021 — Remember when Rock ‘n Roll artists released greatest hits albums? You would pay as much for a greatest hits package as any other album. Today they are called “play lists” and they are not only free, but you can arrange the songs in the order you wish.

Remember stock brokers making trades on the floor of the New York stock exchange? The scene was chaotic. Now, instead of calling your local broker, you open up a phone app and trade the shares yourself. No more going to the bank to deposit or withdraw money. No writing checks. You can use Paypal or Venmo or online banking. No more buying film for your camera. No going to Blockbuster on a Friday night to pick out the latest movie. If it’s not on Netflix, it’s not worth watching. Remember when the newspaper boy delivered the afternoon newspaper? Now, newspapers cannot deliver news fast enough to scoop a story.

These industries all changed radically because of technology and/or the internet. Serious, game-changing earthquakes hit these industries. Remember when telephone operator was a great career? Thirty years ago at FMCC, it was a long distance call from Amsterdam to Johnstown. Now, we can call on a cell phone across the country for free… technically not “free” but for “zero marginal cost.” And we can Skype, FaceTime or video chat across the world. All free.

Higher education is ripe for a similar game-changing event. For years I lectured about the “Production Possibility Frontier” with markers on a whiteboard. Now, I give that lecture – the exact same lecture – from a floating island of reeds in the middle of Lake Titicaca. 12,500 feet above sea level in southern Peru, I bring the world of the Uros Tribe to students in upstate New York. Why? They are as close to a real world example as I could find. Want to understand price gouging? You’ve got to see my March 2020 pandemic video in area grocery stores with empty shelves. Though they’ve only been viewed by a few hundred people, they have the potential to teach millions. And the lecture will be far more memorable than the chalk-drawn curves I’ve put up on blackboards.

Technology has always driven down the cost of production. Earth moving equipment replaces the man and shovel. The tractor replaces the farmhand. One farmer on a tractor delivers more food for less. The internet and the smart phone have changed the way we think and act. Students don’t calculate in their head. Now, they often don’t even calculate with a calculator. While having a discussion that involved the number of seconds in a day, one student grabbed her cell phone and said “I’ll look it up.” She wasn’t going to calculate the number. She was going to say “Ok, google…”

What does this mean for FMCC? More online, more videos and more synchronous classes? Sure. But in-seat class time needs to be relabeled “quality time.” With students and professors spending more of the teaching and learning outside the classroom, the actual time spent physically together can take on new meaning. No more boring lectures. How about better class dialogue? More checking for understanding? More one-on-one individualized attention. That’s how education is changing.

Instead of web classes, traditional classes and hybrid classes, let’s think about web students, traditional students and hybrid students. What has the “covid experiment” taught us? Maybe one-third of our students thrive as good or better in the purely remote mode. But those other two-thirds of the students need the personalized approach that has been the hallmark of a community college education.

In the post-covid world, we need to adjust our educational paradigm away from the one-size-fits all approach of the past. We need to embrace the “have it your way” approach. Measuring attendance by who is sitting in the chair was never an accurate way to measure engagement. And it will never be a way to measure success.

Do you want success? Welcome aboard! Let us know how we can best serve your needs. That’s why we’re here.

This article was written by Frank Yunker is a full-time professor of Computer Information Systems at FMCC.

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