10/08/2013 04:26 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2013

Disrupting College 2.0

On a recent trip to the Bay Area I met extraordinary people, many at Stanford, who are developing technologies that will restructure education -- from teacher preparation to content delivery to assessment, credentialing, and job placement.

Yet, even as more voices join the ed/tech conversation, higher education leaders remain focused on using new tools to replicate what we already do, albeit more effectively and for a larger population.

What if faculty, trustees, and administrators also asked how new technologies can transform the societal role of universities and colleges, enabling us to redefine what an educational institution is and does in light of what technology makes possible and what our world needs?

This is the radical opportunity presented by the shifting higher education landscape. Here are just a few ideas.

Eliminating the achievement gap. New technologies can make content delivery virtually free, collaboration across boundaries easy, and personalized learning possible. Using these technologies, we -- colleges and universities -- can work with partners to build a wide, strong bridge from high school to higher education for every able kid.

At Davidson College, our collaborations with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, College Board, edX, and Charlotte area public schools will enable Davidson professors and high school teachers to develop, test, and disseminate effective blended learning curricula that can give kids everywhere access to advanced courses in core subjects like economics, math, biology, and physics. By mastering this material in high school classes, these kids have a better shot at admission to highly selective colleges like Davidson and Stanford (where financial aid is more readily available and graduation rates are highest), can thrive once they get there, and can even shorten their time to degree. Colleges across the country can create such bridge building projects.

Controlling escalating costs. New technologies combined with open source licensing enable sharing of educational material in ways that build global community, inspire innovation, and foster equal opportunity through equal access to information. What was once expensive and privately owned can now be the birthright of all. Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Rice, and other institutions pioneered open courseware and now, through partnerships (with Creative Commons, OpenStax, and Courseload, for example) colleges and universities can democratize access to textbooks, scholarly articles, simulations, lectures, videos, and other learning materials, all to advance free inquiry and learning.

Building new communities. New forms of exchange--including online lectures, chat, and feedback through machine and peer grading--produce data about how students learn and create worldwide communities of inquiry. Through these tools, we can better meet the needs of each student, build new face-to-face communities on our campuses, and mobilize talent globally to tackle shared problems. Colleges and universities must lead in using new technologies to strengthen campus learning and to convene global communities who can explore new solutions in health care, education, sustainability, conflict resolution, and other crucial areas.

Innovation, leadership and service are foundational values in higher education. At Davidson, our students learn to do what transforms the world, and we measure our success by the impact for good our alumni exert. New technologies offer unprecedented opportunities to redefine our role in addressing the range of challenges that we as human beings face. It is our obligation to take up this call for the benefit of our students and our world.

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