Why are universities so slow to adapt to today’s means and methods of learning? How can we initiate radical change from within a system that actively discourages it? Are universities – or even schools – necessary in this day and age?
These were some of the many questions raised on the evening of Tuesday February 14, at the third edition of Beta-Salon. The topic: University 2.0 – For the <3 Of Learning. Four speakers, each with a distinct, contrasting position on the matter, set the theme for the evening as featured guests.
The evening began on an animated note, with Dale J. Stephens, founder and leader of the UnCollege movement, suggesting that university, along with any kind of schooling, should be attended at the will of the student. This was followed by introduc
tory statements from the other three featured guests. Anna-Lena Schindl, a physics major at Jacobs University Bremen, and organizer of the university’s first TEDx conference, described how she benefitted from attending a private university with a non-traditional structure. Hannes Klöpper, founder of the academic social-network iversity, explained how social networking is, and should be, the future of what universities commonly use as “online resources”. Finally, Dr. Stephan Breidenbach, founding dean of Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance, explained how he, as an academic leader, wishes to change the system from within, and presented the Master of Public Policy program as an example of innovation in the structure and content of post-secondary study programs.
These four contrasting positions from four very different backgrounds resulted in some interesting questions – both practical and philosophical – that related back to the central questions of the role of universities in the 21st century, and how they must reinvent themselves in order to remain relevant.
What exactly inspires one to want to learn – is there a universally-innate desire to pursue a certain subject of interest, or does it require a structured environment in which a set method of learning is imposed? Of course, the suggestion of providing students of all ages with the freedom to choose whether or not to enroll in established educational institutions – the UnCollege position, essentially – raised several more questions, such as who would benefit from having such a choice, and whether or not it would worsen existing societal divisions.
The final audience question of the evening came in the form of a proposal: that each of the four guest speakers suggest one way in which they would change universities as institutions of learning. Dale began by suggesting that universities operate on a more temporary basis, offering short-term memberships similar to what one would find at a gym. Anna-Lena, drawing from her own experience at Jacobs University, suggested the elimination of courses in favour of independent study projects at all levels. Hannes suggested an additional resource – TEDx cinemas, in which talks would be regularly broadcast. Dr. Breidenbach finally suggested a change in which grading systems operated; taking into account skills not only tested in coursework, but also general competencies applicable to real life. Universities – he concluded – should ultimately be places in which each individual can reveal and achieve their full potential.