THE BLOG
03/11/2013 12:25 pm ET Updated May 11, 2013

Unplugging Education

Technology is the key to our future. It will shape aspects of our life in ways that we cannot imagine. But beyond technology itself, we must carefully consider its applications and use. Today I am making the case for the perpetual existence of the physical university, especially in the United States. I am arguing that the forefront of education, research and its nexus should hail on the clouds of the physical institution, and that online education and tools should act as supplements or extenders of knowledge to those with little access. But U.S. research universities are some of the best in the world. The problem in education is deeper: we need a fundamental shift in our priorities towards education. That shift begins with us -- students and the next generation.

I am asking all students in college to write and spread the word about their college experiences. Share with your brothers and sisters what you have learned both inside and outside the classroom. I am asking parents to have open dialogues with your sons and daughters about school and why it is important. That is where we can start.

We will focus on three elements to show the national crisis of education in America : macro-trends in U.S. education, the nature of the university and the Stanford case study.

Macro-trends in U.S. education support the lack of seriousness in higher education. Money is being poured into the development of new facilities, but what we need is a fundamental shift in our priorities. 35 percent of all undergraduates are enrolled part-time, and our school day is much shorter than the 10-12 hour school days in much of Asia and Europe Committing to a university is the simplest step to fixing our complacency, but it requires much more than building: it requires a national shift in our attitude. That shift begins with committing to living and studying in a singular place where our attention is consolidated. A short-term monetary commitment does not come close to outweighing the future benefits of higher education. President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton and countless luminaries have pushed this effort, but I believe we must take a bottom-up approach to this problem and address it from the student perspective.

The university offers proximity and learning beyond the material. Let us look at the classroom itself. Law school classrooms provide a circular forum where individuals focus on an individual speaker; the content is as important as the delivery. Business school classrooms are open and filled with meeting rooms so that students can practice what they learn. These specialized classrooms distill why the classroom is as important as the content: we learn from one another in the classroom in ways that technology can aid but not replace.

Now let us look beyond the student education. Stanford, Harvard and countless universities define themselves as research institutions -- driven by faculty research that stems into teaching, policy and innovation. Sure, Skype, IM and email allow for online collaboration, but they do not come close to working next to another colleague in the lab. Such tools are good -- but they should not replace the physical nature of research that has existed for thousands of years.

As a Stanford undergraduate, I want to share my experiences. Living on campus has been an integral part of my academic, social and personal growth. As many of you can attest, working at common centers such as Meyer Library and Tressider have taught me how to work in different environments and with different people: a valuable life skill. To me and many of my friends, working with others at office hours helps us concentrate and learn from one another. Internet tools increase our ability to collaborate, but the nature of physical presence is just -- in its nature -- different.

Stanford University provides a great example of the investment of time, money and resources that have made our universities the best in the world. The government has provided 84 percent of Stanford's budget for research in 2012-2013. Of the total $1.27 billion, that is $1.06 billion. $1.06 billion. This investment has produced results: $76.7 million in royalties from over 660 technologies developed at Stanford just last year. And not only that, the investment in universities like Stanford has produced consistent returns over time: 19 Nobel Laureates, 4 Pulitzer Prize winners, 24 MacArthur awards; the list goes on. With a government-funded investment that has historically produced some of the best research and greatest minds, why should we stop now?

At the same time, we must realize the value in online education. In the broadest sense, letting the world be educated -- even in one or two subjects or courses -- makes a galactic difference. A more educated person makes a better society. A more educated society makes a more educated world. In the near imaginable future, online tools and courses should be used as aids in education and not as a replacement.

Much of our scientific knowledge stems from collaboration and work of research universities, and we should realize the value of such institutions before joining the bandwagon of online education as a substitute. Technology should be an aid for education, as shown by the nature of learning, years of successful government investment and my personal experience. We must join together, recognize the value of this community, and support national initiatives in a grassroots effort. We must speak out, write and exhibit our experiences so that others can understand what makes Stanford special -- what makes university special. It is more than the knowledge. It is about learning from one another in real-time and living with your peers. That is what made our nation great 50 years ago and what will bring us back today: a shift in how we think about education. And that starts from the home; it starts from parenting and from the future parents of this great nation. It starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with us.

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