Are Liberal Arts colleges insulated from current higher ed trends?


I attended a webinar on the new Blackboard Store today and found that it’s not what I expected–yet another app store–but an online bookstore with other course materials available. These materials would be exclusively for the courses the student is enrolled in. This makes sense as the next logical progression from Bb’s publisher integrations. It also appears they’re trying to cut Ginkgotree out by developing a similar platform native to Bb.

online-presentation

What gave me pause for reflection was the current trends the rep from MBS Direct (Bb’s store development partner) cited as the context for the launch of the store. It’s all stuff I’ve been hearing a lot of over the last few years:

  • Whole industries are shifting from a single, persistent source for information (or a very few) to multiple channels and multiple modalities, indeed whole new environments. He spoke of a single rock radio station per town in the 1970’s to multiple radio stations, satellite radio, digital downloads, Spotify, Pandora, internet radio, and more. We’re all familiar with these trends in music, movies, and news.

  • In higher education we have growing adjunct and part-time faculty contingents, and shrinking percentages of tenure-track faculty.

  • At the same time there are shrinking percentages of traditional students, with growing percentages of non-traditional students. So the most common type of student nowadays is one who is also working and/or raising a family while attending college.

I got to thinking how different it is at small, residential Liberal Arts colleges than at big state schools and community colleges, what to speak of for-profit, online schools. Here at OWU we still use tenure-track faculty primarily. Our students are predominantly 18-22, and the vast majority of them live and work (if they hold a job at all) on campus. We pride ourselves on having small class sizes in which students and teachers can really get to know one another.

And yet, are our students likewise insulated from these big trends affecting the rest of higher education? I doubt it. Do they increasingly prefer digital over print? Are they increasingly finding multiple sources for study help, for research materials, etc. outside of the campus library, beyond the library’s website? Are more and more of them getting their textbooks and course materials somewhere other than the campus Bookstore? And are they bringing mobile technology with them and accessing course materials, official college email, etc. on these devices? Remember, they are young millennials.

Our teaching and assessing practices need to adapt not so much to the trends in the rest of higher ed, but they should definitely adapt to the changing learning and study habits of our students, who are digital natives.

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