Emory Report

March 20, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 25

Duderstadt predicts big changes in digital age

By Jan Gleason

While pooh-poohing gloom and doom predictions of the university's demise because of digital technology, James Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan and director of the Millennium Project, said the digital age will dramatically change teaching and research, the organization of universities and the enterprise of secondary education.

"The most dramatic impact of IT is not its individual elements, but the way it links together people in new kinds of communities," said Duderstadt during his March 8 lecture on "The Future of the University in the Digital Age." "This technology mediates human interaction and will reshape how we interact. A communications technology is what we're talking about­­one that will provide lifelike fidelity of people in remote locations within our lifetimes."

Duderstadt said technology has been slow to affect teaching, but change is beginning and is being driven by students. "The digital generation in college is different; they've spent their lives surrounded by robust media," he said. "Their brains are wired differently; they want to interact. They will demand fundamental changes in teaching and a shift in the role of faculty to become designers and managers of an active learning process."

Duderstadt also predicted that subtle shifts in scholarship will occur as research is done in teams linked by technology: "The shift will also come in knowledge production, away from knowing what has been to what has never been. Libraries will not be places where knowledge is collected, but where knowledge is navigated."

Digital technology will also change the form and function of university organization, Duderstadt continued. "There will be a shift from a faculty-centered culture to a learner-centered culture," he said. "Most dot-com universities are still using the old format­­lectures in multimedia format. Digital technology provides a way to look at learning as a community process; this technology will enable you to build those communities. One of the places that has been successful at this is the campus life arena; most of learning will continue to happen outside the classroom."

Duderstadt warned that market-driven forces should not be allowed to direct all the changes that will occur. "As we assess the marketplace, we must bear in mind the broader purposes of the university: to preserve and convey our heritage and to be a social critic.

"Residential campuses will not disappear but will be priced out of the reach of many. In a knowledge society, the responsibility of a democratic society to provide education and training for its citizens will evolve more rapidly. The university will be challenged to become more focused on those we serve­­our students/learners, not faculty. We must place more emphasis on building alliances, not simply among like institutions but along a continuum from kindergarten through lifetime enrichment.

"As the constraints of place and time disappear with the use of digital technology in the near term, around 10 years, the university will continue to exist as a physical place," said Duderstadt. "Over the longer term, no one knows for sure. A strategic framework is needed since we're on the threshold of a revolution of access to knowledge available to everyone, everywhere."

Duderstadt's lecture was sponsored by the Digital Future Seminar and the provost's office.

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