This week’s (Nov 25, 2016) Chronicle of Higher Education included several pieces commenting on the implications of the presidential elections for higher education. One I found particularly compelling was by Erik Klinenberg, “Professors in a Post-Truth Era.” (Apologies for broken links - The Chronicle is subscription-only).
“There is one thing that universities must do better: teach students skills for learning, discerning, reasoning, and communicating in an informational environment dominated by quick hits on social media like Twitter and Facebook. Like it or not, social media is at the center of the new public sphere. This election leaves no doubt that candidates, campaigns, and their surrogates can make great use of it: planting memes, spreading rumors, building communities. Professors know how to help students work through difficult ideas in books and articles. But except for some of us in the learning sciences, few of us have thought much about how to help students develop critical-thinking skills for the media that they use most.”
- Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU.
I do believe it is the charge of all who work in higher education to prepare students for their civic as well as their professional lives. Some have argued that the learning outcomes and skills for students' civic and professional lives are the same (critical thinking, communication, problem solving, etc.). But Klinenberg has pointed out that the context of this learning matters.
I do not believe that the charge to meet the public good aims of higher education requires that we completely re-design our courses. However, we do need to recommit to explicitly addressing the learning needed for the civic context of our students' lives, and whatever large or small shifts to our courses that requires.