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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New Role for Hi-Ed Campuses? Just Ask

In the Internet age, the role of colleges and universities as bastions of knowledge and education may be in jeopardy, unless they adapt.

“We are awash in information,” said Michael Wesch in his Thought Leader educational session, The End of Wonder and the Age of Whatever, at CAMEX 2013 in Kansas City, MO. Wesch—associate professor of cultural anthropology, Coffman Chair for Distinguished Teaching Scholars, Kansas State University, Manhattan, and U.S. Professor of the Year—thinks higher education can no longer be a place just for the collection and exchange of information.

“We have to redefine college campuses as more than just information flow,” he said. “If we define them as information, we’re going to get beat.” He pointed to the vast array of information available on the web, online learning systems that interact and respond to students’ individual learning needs, and social media that enable students to connect with almost anyone.

A more critical role for hi-ed campuses, Wesch said, might be to encourage people to come together to raise and explore questions. “What if we redefined the university around questions?” he asked.

Questions, he added, generate cycles of curiosity and discovery to “create a life of wonder.” Too often, though, students focus on the administrative side of education. Wesch said he once stopped midway through a lecture and invited questions from his students about the topic. Instead, they wanted to know the deadline for papers and how much a test counted toward their final grade.

To take on this new role, campuses need to create an environment that nurtures questions and gives students the courage to speak up. “We need this space to be a place of awe and wonder,” Wesch said. “When you give students a sense of wonder, they start to see connections.”

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