Bill Gates on Higher Education

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Microsft founder Bill Gates recently spoke on the topic of higher education in an interview.  Bill believes that the web, not a single university, will provide the best education in the future. 

"Five years from now on the web for free you'll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university,"

Bill doesn't come out and say it directly, but he hints at a world where 'learners' can get everything they need in terms of an education from the web, without enrolling in a university (even an online university).  I'm not sure I buy into this, but I do think we can find ways, via technology, to link students from PSU with, say, students from Michigan, other Big Ten schools, Ivy leagues schools and even universities around the world.  We already support exchange student programs, why not work out a way to support students that want to take a specific course PSU does not offer, but another university in the Big Ten does?  Penn State is already doing something similar to this with the elearning cooperative, helping students at all PSU campuses interact within a course supported by technology. 

The second issue that jumped to mind after reading a highlight of Bill's interview is the role of the instructor.  In the last 5-7 years, I believe the instructor (in certain contexts and courses) is better suited to act more as a facilitator than the traditional 'fountain of knowledge.'  The idea that the student's mind is an empty glass and the instructor is the individual responsible for filling it feels dated.  In some courses, this model is necessary.  But in other courses, acting as a facilitator, encouraging and motivating students to be responsible for their own learning, feels like a much more powerful method to engage students. Following Bill's logic, a student simply learning on the web has no facilitator, no knowledge expert to address questions or encourage the student to explore different knowledge areas.  The instructor will always be a key figure in higher education, although the skillsets required to be a great instructor might be changing...

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