Innovative Duke Professor Using Crowd Sourcing to Discuss Future of Higher Education
A new initiative from a Duke University professor – one who is known for challenging higher education traditions – seeks answers to the future of higher education through the use of, among other things, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).
According to an article from Inside Higher Education, Duke University professor Cathy N. Davidson is using technology to gather together people from around the world to work on a project called, “The History and Future of Higher Education.”
At least part of that future will include online or distance learning. In fact, Davidson is using a MOOC – which allows students from around the globe to attend a class – as part of the project. She hopes to draw together 50,000 students as well as officials from universities around the world.
“In the next 50 years, we can reinvent education for the world we live in now rather than the one we’ve inherited,” Davidson told Inside Higher Education. “I don’t think we teach for that world, so much of the class is designed to explain to people how these systems that we’ve inherited as natural were developed.”
Davidson is the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute professor of interdisciplinary studies and the Ruth F. Devarney professor of English, according to her biography on the Duke University site. She also is the co-founder of the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory, which unites university officials from around the globe through MOOCs, international conferences, webinars and Internet discussion forums.
Additionally, President Barack Obama recently named Davidson to the National Humanities Council, according to her personal website.
The project plans to work from the ground up. Davison will lead an exploration of the accepted norms in education, from the use of multiple choice tests to the standards for what constitutes a major and a graduate program.
Also, students in traditional education environments who are studying a wide variety of majors will contribute ideas on education to a central wiki, resulting in a huge repository of information and ideas about possible changes to higher education.
Davidson already is something of a revolutionary when it comes to traditional higher education methods. According to her website, she has been involved with many innovations within the college classroom. They include:
- Convincing Duke in 2003 to give first-year students a free iPod, which lead to students developing educational uses for the new technology.
- Co-founding the Duke PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, which supplements the classwork of PhD and Master of Fine Arts students with workshops on digital technology.
- Instituted peer-taught classes in 2006, in which students work in teams (either two or four-member teams) and develop the syllabus and assignments for other students.
- Asked graduate students in her “21st Century Literacies: Digital Knowledge, Digital Humanities” class to write a book together on methods of using open source programming in open source learning, rather than each student writing an individual paper.
- Establishing new methods of grading students, including peer review and “contract grading” in which students earn a grade by how much work they do.
The grading approach has proved especially notable. Davidson defended it in a blog post, writing, “I can’t think of a more meaningless, superficial, cynical way to evaluate learning in a class on new modes of digital thinking (including rethinking evaluation) than by assigning a grade.”
She went on to write that “top-down grading” encourages students to try to get high grades through the least possible work and does not encourage the sort of pleasure in learning that leads to a lifetime of pursuing knowledge.
She wrote that traditional grading is “ the opposite of everything I believe as a teacher, and is, quite frankly, a waste of my time and the students’ time.”