Abraham Lincoln’s Footprints in a Digital World

Cropped portion of Abraham Lincoln Photograph,...

Cropped portion of Abraham Lincoln Photograph, platinum print from wet plate collodion glass negative (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Lillian Williams

Here’s a quick, three-question quiz (with the answers).

What piece of legislation did President Abraham Lincoln sign on July 2, 1862?

The Morrill Act.

Why is this legislation so important, even today?

The Morrill Act created the land-grant universities in the United States, such as University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin, University of Utah, and Texas A&M University among others.  July 2, 2012, is the 150th anniversary of the signing of this law.

Officials at Texas A&M University  succinctly explained the importance of this legislation: “The Morrill land grants are credited with laying the foundation for the country’s system of state colleges and universities, bringing higher education to millions of students.

“The land-grant institutions were designed to emphasize agriculture, mechanics, military tactics and classical studies, opening the opportunity for higher education to farmers and other working-class people who may have been previously excluded.

“First-generation college students – those who are the first in their families to go to college – have been given access to higher education in unprecedented numbers, thanks to the land-grant system.”

The land-grant institutions number more than 100 today.

And, what does this have to do with digital education, the subject of this blog?  Plenty.

Each generation of politicians, scientists, educators, and concerned citizenry has a responsibility to expand access to education. In his generation, Abraham Lincoln possessed the foresight to sign the Morrill Act, which brought affordable, quality education to the masses.

So, what are today’s generations doing to further access to education?

Consider this: Today’s digital technology offers the potential to widen the gates to quality education. That can be accomplished in many ways—online courses, blended-learning courses, or advanced technology within traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms.

In a point of friction, some observers believe that students learn more in  face-to-face classes,  rather than online.  I agree that the traditional paradigm offers some obvious benefits. Also, I acknowledge that not every course (or teacher) should be required to use technology in the same way. One size does not fit all. In addition, training is necessary to properly implement technology in school programs.

Nevertheless, technological advances hold great promise for primary, secondary and postsecondary education across the globe.

Millions of students, including many in the United States, would jump at the chance to have enhanced curricula through any means possible. Consider students in rural areas, for example, or students in poorer counties or countries, who could be served through online courses that they access from home.

I believe that we, as a nation, should do the right thing–as Lincoln did in his day–and  endorse promising opportunities to spread access to education.  As always, we should take into consideration multiple perspectives, as we decide how to best implement this goal. Without a doubt, we should continue to research what works–and does not work–in online teaching and learning.

In a previous post, I cited an excellent NPR story which recounted the eagerness of South African students for an education. I noted that same passion for education when I visited South Africa in 2010.

In another post , I noted the buzz about MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, that serve tens of thousands of students across the globe, free of charge. These courses do not offer college credit, but their content is valuable. Significantly, these courses were made possible because of advances in educational technology.

Let’s be clear: The typical online course differs radically from the huge MOOCs.  Most online courses offer both peer-to-peer, and teacher-to-student interaction through virtual discussion tools. By contrast, the huge MOOCs obviously limit teacher-to-student interaction.

In MOOC examples, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) earlier this year formed a nonprofit partnership, known as edX, which offers a certificate for completion of their free MOOC courses.  Coursera is another such MOOC venture that involves University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, Stanford and Princeton, and other schools. Udacity is yet another such massive online course start-up.

Of note, this MOOC approach mirrors the mission of some institutions, but not others. It’s important to make that distinction. Nonetheless, it’s heartening to see the seedlings of this and other experiments in education, propelled by a willingness to make the most of technology.

Would President Lincoln and other proponents of the Morrill Act have taken this opportunity to substantially increase access to education through means of today’s advanced technology?   I believe so!

It’s your turn.   In what ways do you believe technology could further widen the gates to quality education?

This entry was posted in digital education, e-learning courses, free e-learning course, MOOC, online courses, online learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s