Throughout my Higher Education in the Digital Age course I have maintained that a useful evaluation of the role technology plays in higher education can not be removed from the broader social and political context in which the technology is used. Without critical evaluation of the goals behind introducing any new technology into what we call "Higher Ed", no meaningful conclusions can be drawn as to the new technology's effectiveness and social impact. At its root, this is a discussion about what role higher education plays in our society. Who is it for and what are its aims? I see two contrasting goals for higher education with very different uses for new technologies associated with each. In one view, associated with quest for a more egalitarian society with a broader and deeper role for democratic participation of its members, the World Wide Web offers a promise of greatly expanded access to information, communication, and participation. In an opposing view, the new technologies will be used as a weapon by the Corporatocracy for increased social control and enforcement of labor discipline in the service of maximizing corporate profits. The outcome of the struggle between these two positions is no small matter, since only the former offers humanity a way out of the self-destructive morass in which it finds itself in the 21st century.
dear friend of mine from Porto Alegre, who is involved in progressive
politics with me, related recently what brought her "into the
struggle". In Brazil the national public universities are free.
Students who attend them don't pay tuition, but entrance into the
universities requires scoring high on a competitive entrance exam. In
practice, this means the available seats in the public universities are
mostly taken up by the well-to-do, who have the resources to out compete
their lower income compatriots in preparing for the exam. This leads
to the ironic situation where the free, public, and highest quality
opportunities for higher education go to the rich, while the poor are
limited to paying for private, lower quality education. When my friend
was in high school, Porto Alegre was engaged in pioneering a wonderful
new "technology" - a participatory budgeting process through which the
members of her community worked to create a new, public university that
was specifically targetted at and open to local community folks with
limited access to financial resources. My friend attended this new
unversity and became active in the struggle to defend it from continual
right wing attack. The new technology in this story, the participatory
budgeting process, has since been taken away from the citizens of Porto
Alegre, but the educational institution that it birthed is still in
existance and still serving those who would not otherwise be served.
what about the many new technologies we studied this semester -- the
moocs, games, social networking apps, etc.? Which of the two futures
for higher education do they serve? While I optimistically like to
imagine that the massive peer-to-peer communication enabled by the
Internet points toward participation and democracy, nothing inherent in
any of the new tech tools leads inevitably that way. Instead, it will
depend on the outcomes of the struggles for social control of our
collective future, and whether the decisions about that future are going
to be made by the many or the few.
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