Diversity and Democracy

From the Editor

It’s tempting, when contemplating new technologies, to imagine a world dramatically transformed. Over the years, many writers and commentators have done just this, crafting technologically advanced utopias and dystopias that have taken hold in the cultural imagination. But the most durable of these visions arguably fall into the realm of science fiction rather than straightforward prognostication. As 3Com founder Robert Metcalfe learned after forecasting in 1995 that the Internet would collapse in 1996 (Pogue 2012), predicting the future is a practice rife with peril.

Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that new digital technologies are changing much about the world, and higher education with it. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may be the most prominent recent example, but technological change in other areas—instructional technology, data collection and tracking, and communications technology, to name only a few—is also having significant effects on teaching and learning as well as on student outcomes.

Without making specific predictions about particular technologies, this issue of Diversity & Democracyprobes how recent technology-driven trends may affect the future of higher education’s civic commitments and equity goals, and how these trends already are affecting pedagogy and educational equity. With special attention to the implications of new technologies for higher education’s mission of contributing to a vibrant democracy, this issue invites readers to reflect on how technological change in an array of areas is affecting higher education’s work to educate all students for participation in the linked spheres of civic and economic life.

This issue’s framing topic implies a series of questions. If technological change is inevitable, how can educators direct that change to ensure that it improves instead of degrades student learning, particularly in areas like civic engagement that have traditionally relied on face-to-face rather than digital exchange? What risks do the uses of digital technologies incur, whether related to student learning about complex topics like diverse perspectives or, most critically, to equitable educational outcomes among diverse students? How can technology facilitate students’ global and civic learning, and what logistical challenges do faculty members face in crafting new engaged learning opportunities using digital technology?

A single issue of a publication like Diversity & Democracy can only begin to explore a select few of these questions. But it can nonetheless help to advance the conversation about such timely and pertinent topics.Diversity & Democracy’s editorial team hopes that this issue accomplishes that goal.

With MOOCs making headlines across and beyond higher education, the issue opens with articles examining the effect that MOOCs and related technologies might have on colleges and universities. David Scobey distills key questions about the relationship between the rising use of educational technologies and higher education’s current “Copernican moment.” Shanna Smith Jaggars summarizes research findings about the impact of MOOCs on educational equity. And Dan Butin, positing that change is inevitable, presses educators to keep today’s civic priorities at the fore when creating tomorrow’s classrooms, whatever they may look like.

Complementing these articles are case studies illustrating how colleges and universities around the country are currently using technologies to promising ends. Contributing authors describe using e-portfolios to support transfer student success, digital storytelling to build professional competencies, and digital communications to bring students together across counties, countries, and hemispheres. They describe video games that prepare students for civic engagement and data collection efforts that keep students on track to their degrees. And they note how technology can both reduce the distance between teachers and learners and widen the gap between well-resourced, tenure-track faculty and their marginalized contingent peers.

Grounded in the present, this issue’s contents are oriented toward, but not predictive of, the future. Without, on the whole, engaging in the risky business of divining what’s next, the issue’s authors put forth practices that support higher education’s mission of building an as-yet-unimagined democratic future. They urge faculty and administrators to use new technologies to support an enduring mission: helping all students acquire the knowledge, skills, and capacities they need to contribute to civic life in a diverse and globally interconnected world.

Reference

Pogue, David. 2012. “Use It Better: The Worst Tech Predictions of All Time.” Scientific American, January 18. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=pogue-all-time-worst-tech-predictions.

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