Guest Post: The Value of New Media in Higher Education

Guest Post by: Livia Rusu

Along with the democratization of the Internet that took place back in 1995, not only the information sharing and processing has become easier, but the latest form of internalizing these new means of communication includes blurring the educational barriers.

During the last month, one of the greatest realizations of the new educational media was MIT giving free online access to all the courses, along with which there was set a new trend in the online education. Turns out that it’s unnecessary to measure competition into results exclusively, as the entire educational processes and their liberalization seems to have more and more power on the reputation of educational institutions.

But new media doesn’t only represent the transfer of the printed and TV press into a new, dynamic platform. It means using entirely other methods to maximize the effect of the information. And the latter as we know it incorporates a lot more than mere journalistic experiences and press materials, it represents any valuable source of knowledge provided by an agent with expertise and, why not, educational and informational responsibility.

The function of online educational platforms is not to prove the experts’ technological acquiring, but to ease access to education for a mass of self-educated, self-motivated individuals who wouldn’t have the means to achieve professional development otherwise.

As about the methods, new media seems to have thought of all the possible issues that made education impossible for millions of people during the 20th century. The first and most important is money. Without enough financial support during the entire educational journey, it would have been impossible 20 years ago for anyone to achieve a level of expertise that qualifies someone as a specialist in a certain domain. Today, the only problem that stands is that not everybody has Internet access, and Google already thought of resolving this final stage of worldwide technologization.

While online education isn’t self-sufficient and still has to be completed by a formal/institutional certification at the present time, there are two major benefits that issue from this online liberalization:

–         the people who have already followed (or are following as we speak) an educational route have the possibility to strengthen and stabilize their specific knowledge and be better professionals than their parents;

–          the category of people who wouldn’t have had the financial possibility to follow a higher education program now have the possibility to achieve (at least) a minimum of knowledge.

The official international certification of exclusive online higher education degrees is only a matter of time, and even though some of the online classes known today as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) provided by online platforms and specialists from different famous universities around the world are most probably going to have a fee in a couple of years, this is not entirely bad. Thinking of a large number of people from developing countries who have the educational interest and the academic spirit that it takes to follow a higher education degree, this measure would only do good on the long run.  More specialists would be ready to integrate on the labor market, thus helping the national economy of the state they belong to.

The second problem that the impact of new media in higher education programs solves is space. Along with the cultural boundaries, the spatial ones have always been a problem for the universities. For a long time now it was impossible for a lot of young, talented, motivated people to follow the classes of a popular university, because of the limited number of students per year. This issue no longer exists – the slides with the information, the e-books along with the tasks and requirements for the online class are posted online, and so is the lecture of the professor. Proximity shouldn’t be treated as a sine qua non condition for the students who want to follow a specific educational program, and though it has raised problems during the past two decades. Hazardous information about the student shouldn’t be able to affect his academic career: his God, skin color, sexual orientation or home city doesn’t have to be an issue anymore.

Of course, being completely unconstrained by spatial boundaries also means that the professors would have to differentiate the students using some educationally relevant criteria, such as their interest on the matter, the information accumulated at the end of the lecture, the seriousness with which the tasks were completed. For once, the major achievement of the online classes is that the interest is no longer determined by economic or hazardous factors. Being active online means the student is driven by self-motivation and genuine interest for the domain, as opposed to going to classes because you like socializing, mocking the professor, or you just happen to be around. Being enrolled to a BA because your parents had saved money half of their lives is not quite the most objective indicator of genuine interest and motivation, while deciding for yourself to be online and constantly participating to online classes offers a rather realistic view of the scale of interest the students show in the academic matters.

What we’re assuming is not that the classical higher education programs are filled and completed to the point of redundancy, but that on a large scale there is no such thing as measuring the bona fide interest of the students by their presence, when sometimes the educational route says little or nothing about their true intentions for the future, but of their parents expectations and social standards.

Time. Time is money, some say, but by following this type of sophistical thinking we would get back to ground zero. So time is time – the most valuable resource for anyone who has the most minimal idea of what is relevant in life. Having time means continuously, thoroughly managing one’s every action in order to achieve the maximum of performance with the minimum of resources.

And for a student or for someone during their 20s it is a sophisticated philosophy understanding that, as much of a cliché as it may sound, there’s no short way if you’re interested in a career. Which entails that there will always be a constant undergoing thought process analyzing which task/interest/motivation should better be followed. To put it simply, spending more time doing academic relevant work online requires more dedication than spending more time sitting in an amphitheater. And this is due to the dynamic and integrative methods that require active listening, immediate reaction to stimuli and a responsive, collaborative attitude that you can fake in class.

Although many of the scientists studying the educational environment and the changes that are necessary have a polarized perspective on the matter, there is no war between the typical universities as we know them today and their analogue online replacements. They’re more complementary than they are mutually exclusive, and integrating educational methods with the technological tools can only sharpen the academic performance of both students and specialists.

This is a guest post written by Livia Rusu, who spends a lot of time researching and discussing college education on her blog.