How will the Post-PC Revolution Affect Higher Education?

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

Yesterday’s post presented an explanation of how we came to live in a Post-PC world and what that means to our daily lives in terms of how we live, work, and communicate. The availability of always connected, portable devices that rely heavily on cloud-based storage and applications has made the traditional desktop and laptop PC obsolete (Ozzie, 2012) and changed every aspect of our lives, including education.

What are the implications of a Post-PC world for higher education, logistically, socially, and pedagogically?

Logistics of Post-PC Higher Education
While the traditional PC-based college campus provides many technology-related logistical challenges such as funding, maintenance, software licensing, networking, storage solutions, data backup, and troubleshooting, Post-PC education contains all of these as well as a new, unique set of challenges such as device ownership, software, connectivity, and network security.

At the very outset it is imperative to have a consistent policy about device ownership. Are students required to bring their own or will the university supply them for every student? Each scenario contains its own challenges from supporting diverse machines in a single environment to the significant cost of investing in so many machines, particularly for large universities.

On the software side, will universities contract out to cloud-based vendors, allow students to use a variety of production programs, or mandate the use of a single free software suite? How can multimedia presentations be facilitated from a variety of wireless devices? Additionally, there is an issue of supporting printing from a variety of machines, many of which currently have no ability to print at all?

Another logistical obstacle is in providing high-quality, wireless connectivity 24 hours a day to a very large number of devices, in any and every location on campus. The infrastructure costs alone of providing Wi-Fi access across campus with enough capacity to handle every student’s demands are daunting.

Finally, network security is an issue that must be accounted for in a Post-PC environment where many of the devices that will be accessing the network have little or no security software built in. Institutions will have to develop access and acceptable use policies to protect themselves that may be impossible to police.

Social Implications of Post-PC Education
Going to school in a portable device-driven setting will also introduce a set of social variables that provide a challenge in a higher education environment. An emphasis on portable connected devices may increase student distraction, or may cause classroom disruption as outside events can more easily intrude into the classroom. Will students become more disconnected from face to face social life, or will they become more social because of constant connection to their peers? All of these issues will need to be worked out as universities transition to this new model of technology access.

On a broader scale, will these connected technologies allow learning to spread beyond the walls of the university? Education has the potential to develop into a hybrid of virtual and classroom interactions. Professors can connect to students through these devices to verify that an absence is illness-related. Students can use this technology to have virtual conferences with faculty well beyond the boundaries of traditional office hours. Ultimately, a heavier reliance on mobile devices in higher education could mean that distance students could take classes just as easily as their residential peers and the college environment could become far more accessible from remote locations.

All of these factors could redefine what social interactions in higher education look like. It is even possible that a reliance on these tools could fundamentally change what education looks like or could create an entirely new model.

Pedagogy in a Post-PC World
All of these elements lead to a discussion of what pedagogy needs to be in a Post-PC educational environment. It is possible that the pedagogy of higher education would undergo little change as a result of the portable revolution; it has avoided major upheaval for hundreds, even thousands of years thus far. However, current technological changes are so large and dynamic, and are such an integrated part of society, that it seems unlikely that universities can hold them at bay indefinitely. Once the barriers break down, it is possible that some or all of the following changes will become part of the pedagogical norm in higher education:

  • New media will become the primary means of faculty and student expression and communication
  • Learning will become more student centered and personalized
  • Students will be presented with more authentic experiences and venues to apply their knowledge
  • Academics will become available on a 24 hour a day 7 day a week basis
  • Learning and connections to faculty will be accessible anywhere, any time, and in any medium
  • Classroom content will need to become device-independent or multi-platform
  • Mastery-based education will become more prevalent as the constraints of time break down
  • Students will be encouraged to participate in publication and portfolio creation to demonstrate their mastery of subject materials
  • Education will be able to break free of the campus, allowing students to learn in real world contexts

There is a wide range of possible innovations that could be sparked in education in the Post-PC world. New technology breeds new technology and there is likely to be yet another wave of mobile device advances sometime in the near future. Perhaps the forthcoming version of Windows geared to portables will yield a new wave of tablets or hybrid phone/tablets that will increase functionality and computing power beyond what we currently expect from the PC.

The debate may continue for some time whether the laptop and desktop PC era is over or not. However, there can be little doubt that if we don’t live in a Post-PC world today, we will tomorrow. This wave of innovation is so pervasive that education will have to adapt to it. The changes that it is likely to spawn may even eventually usher in a new paradigm for the way higher education works.

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