Gov. Tim Pawlenty: iColleges Are the Wave of the Future


On 10 June 2010, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty appeared on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” One of the topics they touched on was online learning in higher education. The audio clip below is an excerpt from the TV show.

The following are transcripts of key comments by Pawlenty:

  • Do you really think in 20 years somebody is going to put on their backpack, drive a half hour to the University of Minnesota from the suburbs, haul their keister across campus and sit and listen to some boring person drone on about Econ 101 or Spanish 101?
  • Is there another way to deliver the service other than a one size fits all monopoly provided that says show up at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning for Econ 101? Can’t I just pull that down on my iPhone or iPad whenever the heck I feel like it from wherever I feel like, and instead of paying thousands of dollars can I pay 199 for iCollege instead of 99 cents for iTunes, you know?
  • Let’s not confuse supporting the service with who provides the service. If I say to you, “Jon, we want you to go to college. We want you to do well. We are going to give you money. But guess what. Just like having an iPad or an iPhone, information choice at your fingertips, you decide where you wanna go with the money we’ve given you, we’ve given you as much as we can afford to under our budget.” But instead of having a one-size-fits-all, command-and-control, you know, bureaucracy run by government employees, let’s put the consumer in charge, whether it’s education, whether it’s health care . . . technology can help a lot.

Governor Pawlenty gives us plenty to think about. His is just one of a growing number of influential voices portending the end of colleges as we know them. He’s receiving a lot of flak from the public for his views, but I have to give him credit for having the courage to call it as he sees it.

When we, educators, look at colleges from the students’ perspective, we have to acknowledge the fact that much if not all of what students are experiencing in traditional face-to-face classrooms can be accomplished via the web with equal if not greater effectiveness.

The longer we keep our heads buried in our beloved offices and classrooms, the more difficult the transition to the internet. Once we decide to embrace the new technology as a powerful and extremely efficient tool and medium for learning, we begin the process that will eventually transform how we interact with our students — a process that will change forever the idea of college.

The change won’t occur overnight. Instead, it’ll be gradual, with most teachers taking a hybrid path that becomes increasingly virtual over time until both feet are firmly planted online.

3 Responses

  1. I see plenty of comments that suggest that we will not do tomorrow what we do today. Lectures and books are not the future.

    Yet, no one has presented a compelling (to me) image of the future of technology-enabled education. I read plenty of generalities. It will be more “student oriented” or use more “social tools.” None of this tells me how to design that “class of the future.”

    I actually think that this situation is exciting. We can sculpt entirely new forms of education from our technological clay. For the foreseeable future, those forms will include teachers for reasons that include those in John Adsit’s recent and moving article. Anyone who can break away from the old can participate in creating the new!

  2. Harry, for a rough idea of how one group went about envisioning change in real-world terms, see Eric Jansson’s ‘Rebundling’ Liberal Education (Inside Higher Ed, 6.22.10). It’s based on “Hacking Education,” a Union Square Ventures Sessions Event, March 2009. Here’s the opening line of Jansson’s report: “In 2009 a group of 42 researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs met together at the invitation of Union Square Ventures, a venture capital firm, to discuss how the Web could transform education.” -Jim S

  3. I can see a lot of ways right now that an online program can use the tools we have right now to make a far superior product to what is normally delivered in a traditional classroom. I do not have the ability to predict what kinds of changes may be coming, but I have a vague notion of some.

    I think the problem lies in something first observed by John Ruskin in the 19th century. He noted that all the fantastic mythological creatures from ancient cultures were not truly generated from the imagination, they were instead unusual combinations of common animal parts. (Woody Allen once created a set of such creatures of his own, one of which had the head of a certified public accountant.) Ruskin’s point is that we lack the ability to imagine something totally new; everything we can imagine is composed of parts of things we already know.

    When the only thing people know is the very limited set of instructional tools used in a typical college classroom, they are limited to what they imagine online education must be like. Asked to make an online course, someone with that limited experience will create a pale replica of what was already a weak instructional experience. When I hear critics of online education, they are usually describing some primitive product created by someone with those same limited views, not the highly creative and exciting courses that are now coming into existence.

    One of the things that limits the creation of these, as I pointed out in one of my first ETCJ articles, is legislatures with a similar lack of experience creating rules that demand that online education deal with the same limitations that traditional education must deal with.

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