South by Southwest Interactive, the portion of the internationally-known conference focused on technology, brought in top minds from across the globe to talk about boundary-pushing issues. Obscure ideas discussed at past SXSWi conferences have often times found ways of becoming mainstream.
Topics ranging from citizen journalism to HTML5 coding were covered during this year’s five-day conference. Nerdy talk and breakthrough technology was a panel discussing the future of higher education among the big names.
Glenn Platt of the Miami University Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies and Peg Faimon of the Miami University Design Collaborative talked about why they see the traditional university structure collapsing.
Platt said prolonged occupancy of teaching positions holds universities back the most. A counselor told Platt when he started teaching, “Universities change one funeral at a time.”
“Higher education keeps pedaling harder, thinking it’s flying — but it’s really falling,” Platt said. “People argue there’s going to be a shakeout in higher education like there was in the ‘dotcom’ world.”
The panelists suggested universities get rid of tenure so old ideas are not trapped inside the walls of academia, stifling new suggestions. Platt said other businesses that refused to fire people after working at the institution for six years would not be sustainable.
They both believe the possible end of the traditional university structure could create new learning opportunities. Platt and Faimon said these alternatives are already appearing online.
Platt and Faimon used an online, collaborative model as an example of a possible alternative to the traditional university. Online sites are providing high-concept lectures previously available exclusively to college attendees. YouTube, T.E.D. and iTunes U offer content previously taught solely in a university setting.
Other universities are stepping in as editors and moderators as more of this knowledge gets into the public sphere. Traditional universities are beginning to offer Open Courseware, free lectures, notes and exams on an online basis. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has received recognition for providing this structure.
Platt and Faimon did not forget about the role of the traditional professor. They said the profession would need to evolve in this modern, digital age. A traditional professor would have to take on new responsibilities, rather than lecturing students and expecting everything to be written down.
Professors should be prepared to wear different hats, they said, including that of the project manager. The “new” professor works with students so they can accomplish their own goals. The speakers encouraged faculty to let students do research and make their own discoveries.
Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared at SXTXstate.com. See more coverage of the interactive conference there.