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Communications of the ACM

Letters to the editor

Predicting Failure of the University

Letters to the Editor, illustration


Henry C. Lucas, Jr.'s Viewpoint "Technology and the Failure of the University" (Jan. 2018) was a tour de force of unfounded assertions, beginning with a prediction that 50% of U.S. universities will fail in the next 15 years, justified by two articles posted on the blogs and (The latter is described by RationalWiki as "apocalypse porn" that has "accurately predicted 200 of the last 2 recessions.") Lucas asserted "... technology-enhanced teaching and learning can dramatically improve the quality and success of higher education ..." His Figure 1 and Figure 2, in outlining traditional versus technology-enhanced courses, suggested traditional teaching methods deliver a low-quality result, while professional (Hollywood) production methods deliver a high-quality result, with, again, no evidence provided.

The idea of universities as "content producers" giving students "content" consisting of "course materials and exercises" gave me an analogous idea. Families give food and clothing to their children, but families are inefficient and can involve bloated administrations (parents). Just as parents do more than feed (they try to create an environment where their children can develop and thrive), universities likewise try to create a learning environment for students. Indispensable elements include laboratory work, fieldwork, real essays marked by real scholars (not against a list of bullet points), and project work. And that is only the strictly academic side. Also indispensable are cultural and social events and pastoral care. A lot of these things are not easily delivered through a mobile device.


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