Plinius

Sunday, March 29, 2009

PS 5/09: Big change

Filed under: LATINA — plinius @ 4:14 pm

worldMy topic is change. Big change.

On June 1 I gave a lecture at the conference Libraries and their clients – in Cracow. This post contains the opening paragraphs.

To illustrate big change, I’d like to go twenty years back. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. Now pieces of the wall are sold as souvenirs. In 1989 Poland was a member of the Warsaw pact. Now Poland is a member of NATO and the European Union. This is big change.

Political change keads to social change. In the 1970s only sixty persons emigrated from Poland to Norway each year. Two years ago the number was thirteen thousand – more than two hundred times as high. Source. This is big change.

Stability and change are closely related. In Eastern Europe the Soviet Union used its military power to stop normal processes of change for forty years. When the communist party lost control in 1989, very much happened in a very short time.

Technology and politics

My topic is technological rather than political change, however. In 2009 we find ourselves in the middle of a technoology driven revolution. I refer of course to the digital revolution. Data technology is changing all social sectors and all social institutions, from libraries, schools and culture to medicine, transport and mass media. This is big change.

When big change hits, organizations have three choices. They can adapt, resist or go out of business. The Soviet Union went out of business.

I come from an organiztion that is facing big change. Oslo University College is a very young institution. It was created fifteen years ago by the fusion of twenty different professional schools, as part of a big government reform of professional education. Combining so many different traditions and cultures was hard. Management consultants say that effective integration takes about ten years.

Today the big challenge does not come from the government, but from technology. We are entering a world where instant access to the web is the normal situation. This means – to put it bluntly – that many traditional teaching methods become obsolete. At home and in their spare time our students interact constantly with the web – and with each other through the web.

Very few schools and universities are comfortable with this situation. The teachers stick to the old forms of teaching. The web and its possibilities are either excluded – no cell phones allowed – or strictly controlled.

This is not a stable situation. It may continue for one, two or even five years – depending on the country, the institution and even the subject. But schools and universities cannot keep the web under control for ten or twenty years. Sooner or later the wall must break down.

Students and employers will not accept a system that excludes or marginalizes the most powerful learning tool ever invented.

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