My new book project begins

Friends, I’ve signed a contract with Johns Hopkins University Press for a book tentatively titled Transforming the University in the Twenty-First Century: The Next Generation of Higher Education.

I will be doing some of this writing online, and am exploring options for that.  At the very least I’ll share ideas, passages, and research here in this very blog.

Table of Contents/Outline

Part I: Approaching the future

  • Introduction. Why the future of higher education is of vital importance.  Accomplishments and limitations of recent work in the field.
  • Methods: How to Best Anticipate What’s Coming Next.
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    A description of the book’s methods, including trends analysis, scenario construction, and horizon scanning.

Part II: Trends

  • Education: these trends include changes in enrollment, financing, the composition of the professoriate, racial participation, degree programs, sexual assault policies, remediation, and institutional strategy.
  • Contexts: these are non-technological forces from outside of higher education per se, and that have powerful influences upon it, including demographics, national politics, international higher education, certain cultural tendencies, and several macroeconomics indicators.
  • Technology: this chapter offers a top-level overview of major developments.
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    These include mobile computing, the new device ecosystem, new creativity forms, automation (robotics and artificial intelligence), ebooks, 3d printing, the internet of things, a balkanized internet, the web’s limits, social media, digital video, and copyright struggles.

  • Education and Technology: here we isolate trends at the intersection of teaching, learning, and technology. They include changes to the learning management system (LMS), the open education and open access movements, distance learning, the flipped classroom, the digital humanities movement, educational entrepreneurship, and massively open online classes (MOOCs), in addition to the use of digital video, social media, computer gaming, ebooks, mobile devices, and virtual reality in education.
  • Metatrends: this chapter examines what we can extrapolate by bringing together multiple trends. As such it serves as a bridge between the book’s first and second sections.  The chapter begins by discussing the higher education bubble theory, which suggests that post-secondary education may be about to suffer a major downturn or crash along the lines of the 2008 housing bubble and financial crisis.

Part III. Scenarios

Each of these chapters posits a different future for higher education, based on one, two, or three present trends exerting a strong shaping influence.  Each imagines a distinct set of possibilities for higher education based on separate driving forces, although there are some commonalities and points of productive connection.  At the close of each scenario we imagine the mental world of an eighteen-year-old arriving on that campus, as a proxy for traditional-age undergraduates.

  • Peak Higher Education. American colleges and universities reached maximum enrollment in 2013, and that population declined through the subsequent generation.  Demographic forces combined with student debt anxiety and competitive forces to create this situation.
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      As a result American higher education is smaller than it once was, with fewer campuses employing a shrunken professoriate and staff.

  • Health Care Nation. As mid-century approaches health care has become the leading sector of the American economy, thanks to demographic, technological, and medical finance forces.  Preparing students for the full spectrum of health care is now the leading function of education, from pre-med programs to radiology, administration, eldercare, and robotics.
  • Open Education Triumphant. The open paradigm has won over most of the world.  In education open source software, open educational resources, open teaching, and open access in scholarly publishing are the order of the day.  How do universities change as a result of this revolution?
  • Renaissance. This scenario posits that scholars a generation hence will reconsider the 1995-2035 era as a time of creative rebirth, when ordinary people increasingly won access to powerful storytelling and publishing tools.  This new understanding views the digital revolution as democratizing the arts and adding greatly to the shared human record.  Education changed as a result, becoming focused on students as creators, themselves immersed since childhood in powerful multimedia technologies.  Curricula, pedagogies, and institutional strategies all changed as a result.
  • Alt. Residential. The residential campus experience rebooted itself.  As demographics, finances, and competition from online learning marginalized the traditional-age, residential, undergraduate function, colleges and universities had to rethink their unique value offering.
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      As a result classrooms are social and multimedia zones, libraries are media production sites, and campus grounds are carefully curated and accessible through augmented reality technology.

  • Tutor Me, Siri. This scenario sees automation continuing to develop rapidly.  Artificial intelligence and robotics continue on their present growth curves, without any post-human breakthroughs.  This revolutionizes the labor market, leading either to widespread underemployment or the proliferation of “cyborg jobs”, positions where humans work very closely with algorithms and/or robotic assistants.
  • Retro Campus. Could American colleges and universities return to the status quo of 1990? Certain campuses and policies could strive mightily to recreate that model.  A disillusionment with online education leads administrations to block distance learning from their population, while reducing support for on-site digital practices, including accessing and producing digital content.

Part IV: Coda

  • Beyond 2040. How might education change under the impact of long-term trends?  Unmitigated climate change could alter university structure, collaboration, and curriculum at a global level.  Technologies only at the initial steps now could change learning radically, from artificial intelligence that emulates or exceeds human understanding to devices that can directly alter the mind’s contents.  Social transformations as a result of technological shocks could also lead to new educational dimensions, from extended lifespans to genetically designed children.
  • Back to the present. This conclusion is a practical one, shifting from description to prescription. It offers the reader steps they can take to continue thinking about the future of higher education, and also ways to influence the shape of the next university.

What do you think?

And what’s a good way to use the internet to improve the writing of this book?

The ms. is due next September.

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20 Responses to My new book project begins

  1. Bryan: Shall we give another try at making an annotation group? Or embedding Hypothesis on this site?

  2. Awesome outline. Best wishes.

  3. Fantastic.


    Looking forward to reading it.

    And, with any luck, I’ll be making a similar announcement (for a different publisher, on a much different topic) very soon. Hope we have a chance to spur each other on; will be in touch privately if/when my proposal is accepted.

  4. Dave Mazella says:

    This is excellent, though I’d also like to read a scenario like, “Inertia Triumphant,” that simply extrapolates current trends forward, without any political convergence towards a solution. Would higher ed disappear, shrink, or transform in some fundamental way?

  5. Joe Murphy says:

    A suggestion, triggered by your “Beyond 2040” reference to “devices… that can directly alter the mind’s contents.” It occurs to me that “Health Care Nation” might be a logical place to address the increasing accessibility of higher ed (and jobs in higher ed) to people with chronic medical conditions, especially mental and learning issues.

    On a positive side, we’re contributing massively to the development of human potential. The pressure for universal design for learning could create opportunities to radically reconsider courses and institutions. (One example: Ed Burger has speculated that we might consider shorter courses which meet more times per day as a way of accommodating shorter attention spans.) It might even cause us to reconsider scholarly communication (which might connect to “Open Ed Triumphant” and/or “Renaissance”).

    On the negative side, well, there’s already backlash to something that can feel like a top-down imperative. There are potential losses of some worthwhile (but low-accessibility) formats. There are also the unintended outcomes, like the fact that we’re already seeing the “abuse” of ADHD drugs by non-ADHD folks to boost concentration for cramming sessions. What does academic “doping” look like, and how might we deal with it? (Might we even come to accept it? Probably not by 2040, not in the US at least…)

  6. Joyce Ogburn says:

    Hey Bryan interesting project. Under enrollment are you going to cover demographics such as first generation, the growth of transfer students, and non traditional students?

    Funding sources?

    I’ll let you know if I think of anything else.

  7. Sebastien says:

    This will be fun to watch, Bryan. I like the forecasting. Also hope to see a little library coverage.

  8. Matthew P Henry says:

    You’ll get tired of this, look at Cathy Davidson’s book on The New Education. Her history of what happened at Harvard that become what we believe should be higher education is a direct link to understand the potential scenarios. One could extrapolate the needs in the world today versus the needs in the world in the late 1800s and build scenarios. Charles William Eliot understood that for the revolution at hand, higher education had to morph from the Puritan system to what we now call the the current system. Your book will be this needed catalyst for change!

  9. Bryan, this looks fantastic, and that is unsurprising. As I look at your scenarios, I find something to dislike in each of them, and I guess that serves as a reminder that prospective students and their parents are not the only ones who are experiencing serious anxiety.
    How might your thinking about higher education as a public good fit in here?

    • Thank you, Christopher.
      Lots of anxiety. But hey, you don’t like Renaissance?

      “How might your thinking about higher education as a public good fit in here?” I’m trying to figure out how to integrate Chris Newfield’s work in here.

  10. Bryan – Congratulations on this excellent opportunity. I have responded to your posts a few times on various topics, but I’d like to reiterate a few of those sentiments here in case there is some use for them in your research:

    1 – Regarding online learning: The current concept of the LMS is deeply rooted in certain less relevant design principles. The Web-based LMS is based on conventional Web design, which is based on print design. As a design metaphor, it reflects concepts of time and space which are limiting – especially in terms of the needs of purposeful instruction conducted over time. Too much to say about this to elaborate on here this except to say that app designers have bypassed print design conventions. The LMS needs the same reboot, from a clean conceptual foundation within the metaphor of a modern information ecology and learning strategies. Put another way, early filmmakers pointed their cameras at the vaudeville stage because that was their only frame of reference. It was not until someone invented the close-up and parallel action did the film medium take on an aesthetic of its own. We are still using the LMS like a newspaper. No one has yet “invented the close-up” within the LMS environment. (see below)

    2 – An LMS is fundamentally an information system. Its design reflects “systems-based” thinking, meaning that the organization of information is designed to reflect an expert’s sense of what is important to its users, when users need the information, and under what conditions. This design does not reflect the realities of how humans apprehend a given problem (whether education-based or not). Dr. Brenda Dervin’s Sensemaking Methodology describes the human condition as they actively pursue “cognitive movement” towards solving a problem. In examining the foundation principles of SMM, it is apparent that a more user-based design of the LMS is needed. This will not happen until higher education confronts the reality that we are not interested in how people learn in *their* realities; we are only interested in how they learn *in the reality that we create for them* (like the army uniform designed for everyone, it fits no one).

    3 – I have developed a body of work centered around “teaching beyond text” using rich media (a term everyone has heard but no one knows exactly what it is). Below is a link to the structure of a workshop I hosted for NERCOMP on “Teaching with Rich Media”. I offer this since it appears that faculty PD rarely takes into account the dramatic affordances of rich media to support learner’s cognitive and communication needs. Takes some principles of TPACK and operationalizes it on an more objective-level basis.

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