Students as Colleagues for Professors

Stephen gave an interview to Clientology about eLearning.

Some of his statements should be scaring the h*ll out of some people in universities and elsewhere. First, he points out that gatekeepers are slowly losing their power:

It is important to recall how much of our culture – including political culture, economic culture, educational culture — has been shaped by ‘gatekeepers’, elites who, because of their knowledge and position, are the sole arbiters of what we will read, buy or learn. This gatekeeping function has already been disintermediated; new people — what Robin Good calls the ‘newsmaster’ are taking their place, and the result is a much more balanced exchange.

This is so obvious in my daily life and was brought on by the Internet and excellent tools like Google. It actually links with a previous post I wrote this week: non-tech natives are the gatekeeper generation. The new tech natives won’t see a purpose for these gatekeepers who kept their knowledge close and their power even closer. Information and knowledge is always changing and flowing so that controlling knowledge doesn’t make sense anymore. In a very deep way, we’ve become a dynamic society. This is not just class mobility, that is, the ability for a large segment of the population to acquire some key knowledge and then, have a shot at becoming a gatekeeper. No. I think that the notion of gatekeeper itself is failing.

This has very concrete consequences in universities:

In education, the result is the gradual erosion of the power relationship that existed between student and professor. In some senses, we see this already by the designation by many of the student as ‘customer’ rather than, say, apprentice. But it’s deeper than that, and we will see eventually the designation of student as ‘colleague’ — and in an important sense, it will not be possible to distinguish between student and professor online.

I couldn’t agree more. Students do not depend on their professors the same way they use to. Professors won’t be able to hold their status as gatekeepers for very long now. Not when anyone in the planet can quickly become an expert in almost any field just by reading up on the Internet.

I think university professors will remain marketing tools. First, they will serve to sell training, which they have always done anyhow, and second, they will be used to authentify knowledge which will become an increasingly important task. Students won’t look so much for knowledge but for recognition and professors who can bring student some recognition which will be in high demand.

8 thoughts on “Students as Colleagues for Professors”

  1. “In education, the result is the gradual erosion of the power relationship that existed between student and professor. In some senses, we see this already by the designation by many of the student as ‘customer’ rather than, say, apprentice.”

    The student as a client seems to me more like a side-effect of living in a capitalist system. Both the universities and their students have been striving for this kind of relationship. Online courses (distant education), certifications,adult/special ed programs, and increasing “interesting” partnerships with private companies for research/funding/sponsorships are one of the ways that universities have survived.

    Also, I think that people were/are gatekeepers by default. Before the Internet, there was no efficient means to propagate information that rapidly. That is one of the many reasons that people went to universities.

  2. Well, capitalism has been around for a long time, and the sudden change in universities where students start taking charge of their education, is more recent.

    Not that I disagree with you, but I think that capitalism is more or less a constant, at least in Canada. Universities have always tried to make more money. I think, however, that their role is changing now. It used to be that to know anything deep about any given subject, you needed to go to universities and study there. They had the libraries, the teachers, the courses. Now? Now, you can get more information through google that you could ever could through a university library.

    If we accept that technology is not grown outside of us, but actually extends us, then you could say that the new students are more powerful, smarter than ever. The gap between “university professor” and “university student” is closing, at least in terms of raw knowledge. Students are often older, they have lived through more, they have seen more than ever before in history… and the trend is increasing.

    That’s the theory. Unfortunately, many students are really not so smart despite all the nifty technology they have at their disposal… but that’s another story.

  3. I think most people can agree that information is much more accessible than previously. However, I’m not sure that its accessibility necessarily implies that the role of ‘teacher’ (the educator side of a professor) will be reduced to bestowing recognition on the student. I think the term ‘gatekeeper’ has negative connotations of censorship. Take cognitive psychology, for example. Students learning cognitive psychology can increasingly find material on the internet, via MIT, CMU, or other institutions, profs, etc. But this doesn’t always mean the information is complete. Secondly, as I realized after starting my masters, there is *too* much information available — what papers are relevant? what theories are broadly accepted in the field? I think the role of the teacher will be not as a ‘censor’, but rather, a filter, who can use his/her expertise and training to determine what is unimportant to that student and what is more relevant.

  4. Good point Neil, however, the Web also has mechanisms for filtering and composing knowledge. Right now, they are awkward and do not compete with what a prof. can do, but why should it not get there?

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