12/23/2012 03:33 pm ET | Updated Feb 22, 2013

Higher Tech Meets Higher Ed

Silicon Valley thrives on disruption; academia thrives on tradition. That's a recipe for tension. Technology has transformed industries: music, publishing, film, health -- and education is next in its insatiable path.

Each January, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we hold the HigherEdTECH Summit, a unique gathering of leaders in technology and education. In the midst of the world's largest arena of tech innovation, we have created a hot house for cross-pollination among education and industry that is generating new -- some might say unusual -- hybrid relationships and exciting new ideas. Topping this year's list of controversial topics is whether education as we know it has a future. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from new companies like Coursera and edX or consortia now make it possible to study with the world's foremost professors without paying tuition. E-texts and e-content are slowly, but surely replacing textbooks, and e-portfolios are making it easier for students to take courses from multiple institutions. As colleges straddle the past, present and future, their students are firmly planted in the digital world, and technology innovations are invading the hallowed halls of ivy.

MOOCs have made the cover of every major news outlet, promising to deliver high-quality courses to anyone interested in learning and having a connection to the Web. Class limits are in the hundreds of thousands, not small multiples of ten. While the nuts and bolts vary, edX, Coursera, and Udacity are the 800 pound gorillas in the field, offering a menu of courses for free, paid certification, job searches, and even student recruitment for traditional institutions.

At the crux of the debate is whether these innovations can deliver learning not only course content, but the college experience itself, and whether these offerings are setting up unrealistic expectations that all students can learn online. Not only that, how do you figure out whether 100,000 students are learning? And what about those four golden years of growing up and socialization? How might they change?

Among the speakers tackling these hot topics at HigherEdTECH Summit are:
• James Applegate, Ph.D., Lumina Foundation;
• Joel Klein, Amplify;
• Doug Lederman, Inside Higher Ed;
• Walt Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal;
• Andrew Ng, Coursera;
• Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University; and
• Candace Thille, Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon University.

Behind every course lies big data -- an aggregate of who's learning what, how and when. Companies including Kno, CourseSmart, 2U and eduKan will look at what it means for educators to have real-time knowledge of what students are learning and how students learn best.

The conference also explores the printed book and whether technology will lead to its ultimate demise as the lynchpin in the classroom. Education companies like McGraw-Hill Education, Copia Interactive and Inkling along with consumer electronics companies from Amazon to Samsung to Apple all have vested interest in producing devices that have educational applications. Solutions that offer on-demand printing, shared blackboards, compendium e-text, rental texts and more need to be explored and examined.

The initial costs of this discussion should not be dismissed lightly, and educators know all too well the pain of making a wrong decision. Hedging obsolescence in this fast paced world bumps up against the sometimes ponderous decision-making of educators. But at conferences like these, where industry, academia and consumer electronics can openly share ideas, the dial is slowly moved.

Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today's digital consumer.