Sunday, October 26, 2008

What is the purpose of higher education?

What is the purpose of learning on the web? Is it a reference source or is it a "space for investigation, deliberation, and discussion where there are ongoing conversations about the value of different content being circulated." This is how Henry Jenkins frames the questions being asked about the whether or not university websites should be open platforms that allow students and the public to contribute or closed processes in which experts (university professors) provide credible information.

Jenkins notes that if we adopt the open model then

"Everyone in the university would need to have a stake in insuring the integrity of the process and that means being highly critical and skeptical of anything that gets submitted, whether by a student or a teacher."
This is a different model.

A central question in this model is what do you do when bad or wrong information is presented in a university-based website? Jenkins writes,
"It depends on what the university is trying to sanctify: is it seeking to guarantee the integrity of the product (in which case, every bit of content needs to be vetted) or the integrity of the process (in which case, the university is creating a space where people learn through vetting each other's content.) Is the reputation of a university based on the fact that they gather together lots of people who know things or is it based on the fact that they create a context where the ongoing questioning of information takes place?"
In short, are we teaching the content (only the facts) or are we teaching how to think critically about issues and ideas, how to make a persuasive argument and so forth? As teachers we often like to have the last word and to be the best source of information, but in quiet reflection we know that we have often been wrong and that the history of knowledge and science is always about the development of new ideas and throwing away earlier notions that don't hold up. Although we often do have good ideas that are worth consideration, there is still much room for improvement. Likewise, rather than teaching the basic facts wouldn't we be better off teaching people how to think more carefully about ideas in our fields of study?

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