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Rick Ostrander

Learning to Surf

A college provost encounters the digital revolution.

March 2012: I attend the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Chief Academic Officers Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Conversations among my colleagues circle back to one topic: the impending revolution in higher education brought on by the internet. As a recent Washington Post article put it: "Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges cannot survive."

In a breakout session, a provost from California tells me about free online courses from premier universities such as Michigan, Stanford, and Yale. I learn a new acronym, the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), which can enroll thousands of students around the world. The next month, Stanford president John Hennessy declares in The New Yorker, "there's a tsunami coming." This is all news to me, since apparently I've been too busy monitoring faculty teaching loads to notice an approaching tidal wave.

The Nashville conference's plenary speaker is David Kinnaman, head of the Barna Group and author of UnChristian, who describes the salient characteristics of today's "digital native" college students. His advice: Get on Twitter.

I download the Twitter app for my iPhone. Immediately upon registering my password, I forget it. Unable to find a "forgot my password" button, I have no way to login to my account. The Twitter icon remains on my iPhone, mocking me with its promise of an exotic world of tweets and hashtags that are a forgotten password away.

Reading Up

If my institution—Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan—is about to be engulfed by a digital tsunami, then as provost I should probably give my faculty and staff a heads up. Clearly it's time for some remedial reading. I begin with three recent books that are similar in their analyses and prescriptions: Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring's The Innovative ...

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