I attended a wonderful keynote talk at the 2009 Faculty Summer Institute at UIUC. Nicholas Burbules gave a presentation entitled “From E-learning to Learning: Managing the Transition to Blended Programs”. One of the biggest ideas of Burbules’s talk is that we need to stop thinking of distance learning as something separate from on-campus that is geared toward a different audience with different. It is not. In the future, Burbules sees a college student’s whole program as blended, with the student taking a combination of on-campus and online classes. He says if traditional university don’t offering these options, students will seek them elsewhere – including at community colleges. He challenges academia to start considering and adopting all the different ways technology allows learning to be blended: offering classes with both on-campus and distance students at the same time, offering classes that blend professional continuing education with students pursuing academic degrees, offering synchronous class with groups of students and instructors in remote places. He calls himself a pluralist and wishes many more models of technology and pedagogy would be explored.

Bubules calls for instructors to stop thinking of technology as a “tool” for learning or just a mode of “delivery”. He declares that as a stupid was to think of education – as merely content being delivered to students in different manners. He encourages faculty to look at technology as integral to the learning process and use the integration as an opportunity to think of new ways students can collaborate and learn – to let the technology help determine what needs to be learned and how rather than thinking how can technology help teach the same old “content”. He reminds us that no area of study is exempt from the touch of technology, we should be teaching the technology as part of the discipline. We also need to remember that students can no longer graduate in a field and expect to be fully prepared for a 30 year career. Education must be a lifelong endeavor and the challenge is to teach students how to keep learning and keep absorbing and thinking deeply about the world around them.

We need to stop ignoring mobile technology – it can and should be part of education. Google has not made us stupid – we now carry the interet in our pockets and it is part of our learning, education, and knowledge. We need to rethink and redesign the space in which education happens. We need to harnass the power and motivation of social interaction and learning and teach peers to learn from and teach eachother. To some degree, vocabulary is limiting us from thinking in broader terms about education. Very inspiring!