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September 07, 2009

College Advice from the Technorati on Campus

The NYTimes asked nine distinguished scholars for their advice to incoming college freshmen. No arguing with many of the solicited pieces of advice including the value of great teachers, read newspapers, read books, remain open to new ideas, engage and find your passion. In the Book Review section of the same Sunday Times, Harvard President, Drew Gilpin Faust writes a provocative treatment on the crisis of identity and purpose of the University.

All but absent from the advice columns and from the analysis of the crisis of purpose of the University is the impact of information technology on the University campus and its antinomies in dislocating much of the received wisdom about the university ideal. Most everything defining the 'multiversity' has been impacted by information technology over the past 15 years, including what entering freshmen should know about their journey of discovery over the next 4 or 5 years and beyond. Multiversities offer liberal undergraduate education, professional education at both the undergraduate and graduate level, research driven education for students through the doctorate, applied research opportunities, and a wide range of research, scholarship, and creative pursuits. When President Obama calls on academe to be 'part of the solution' the role that we are to play is multi-faceted and indeed contradictory.

While incoming freshmen are part of a great tradition tracing its origins back 800 years or more, in reality, their experience, not withstanding the sage advice and wisdom of their elders will be very different than the post-war retiring faculty cohorts, the baby boomers, and the technorati who still regale in tales of coding their own html 'back in the day'. Information technology on the university campus is often delimited in terms of its essential qualities; big bandwidth, enough freedom of use to get into trouble, redefining the meaning of procrastination from the last hour to the last second possible, and a bevy of new excuses to the old 'the dog ate my essay' for why stuff happens. In addition to its essential features, information technology is both a strategic lens and a platform for exploration that can help engender a robust and vibrant multiversity. Here are 5 initial and perhaps not so sage suggestions for incoming freshmen. Your suggestions for additional advice for freshmen are welcome in the comment section.

(1) University is about the challenge of ethics, ethical behavior, and finding out something about your own ethics. Blog a dialog about software piracy between yourself, Socrates (self-knowledge), Cyrenaic hedonism (immediate gratification), and Kant (the pursuit of inherent good). Which two of these philosophers would you vote off the island?

(2) The idea, contribution towards, and impact of the 'global village' is a major theme that draws many young people to University campuses to explore and have their world changed. The rise and interest in environmental studies, public health, international trade, and architecture for sustainability, to mention but a few, are majors worth exploring that were probably not part of your high school curriculum. Use your knowledge and interest in the theme of a 'global village' to organize and make a video montage among young people. Here are some popular examples and here.

(3) One of the goals of coming to University is to become more literate. Many of your professors would probably tell you that literacy is a prerequisite for a democracy society. Some would argue that the way you and your generation 'view the world' is a series of windows on a screen filled with semi-complete sentences, disjointed ramblings, music blaring, and video streaming. Is multi-tasking incompatible with literacy? Do the ideals of a democratic society change with a civil society more attached to their computer screens than perhaps protesting in the street for civil rights or marching on the State capitol? Some one once said that "the medium is the message" (Marshall McLuhan). Use your preferred medium to share your message.

(4) The challenges facing your generation, as you enter university, are daunting. From the environment, to health care, from wars in places that many of us would have a hard time finding on the map to global financial crises the opportunity to make a difference is every bit as noble as is the prospects of growing discord and the loss of civility. Your judgment and your ability to engage in critical analysis is something that many of your professors think is important to explore while in University. Before "Google Search" developing critical insights and judgment was often the product of reflection and time on task. Take one of the 'big' questions above (or another one that you think matches the ones above) and use "Google Earth" to create a KML project that explores and reflects your judgment on one of the 'big' challenges. Here is a gallery of KML projects to give you a taste of what is out there and possible.

(5) Many of our major multiversities are located in major urban centers. Most universities are surrounded by moats that separate themselves from the realities of urban life around them. The 'backs' of our buildings face the communities around us. Look around your university. The technologies that you will experience in your University careers connect you to the world around you with the click of a mouse. The power of the technology has potential to change the relationship of your university to the immediate neighborhood around you in many different ways. Design a service or community outreach project for you and your residence program to help change the lives of the neighbors around you. You never know, the experience might just change your world too.

President Faust concludes her essay in the Times by suggesting "as a nation (we) have embraced education as critical to economic growth and opportunity, we should remember that colleges and universities are about a great deal more than measurable utility. Unlike perhaps any other institutions in the world, they embrace the long view and nurture the kind of critical perspectives that look far beyond the present." The embodiment of those multiple commitments find their way into innovative new general education curriculum, the values and commitments of individual faculty members, and the potential strategic alliance between technology leaders and other members of the senior leadership of the university. The stakes reduce to the search for relevance in the 21st century for both the incoming freshmen class of 2013 and the role of the multiversity in society.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, Ohio
September 7, 2009

Posted by lsg8 at September 7, 2009 12:09 PM and tagged

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