Technology, the Humanities, and the University

015_3133A recent article asking, “Whither the Digital Humanities?,” observed an incredibly helpful distinction between emerging and emergent use of technology in the humanities.

The emerging use of technology in the humanities was all about the rise of the machines (see Meredith Hindley’s article in Humanities, July/August 2013), and is best illustrated by an Italian Jesuit priest attempting to compile a medieval Latin concordance of the works of Thomas Aquinas in the mid-1940s.  When Father Roberto Busa’s project was rebuffed as “impossible” by the staff of IBM, he challenged them by reiterating their own motto: “The difficult we do right away; the impossible takes a little longer.” The result was a workable but terribly cumbersome system of punch cards.

This technology also enabled John W. Ellison to collaborate with Remington Rand, IBM’s competitor, and their UNIVAC I computer to develop the first computerized concordance of the bible (RSV) — 480lbs. of punchcards and 80 miles of tape took 400 hours for UNIVAC to compile. Compare that with the 30 years it took to manually compile the 1890 KJV concordance. Digital humanities was off and running.

Today, digital humanities is an international network of technologically connected scholars working collaboratively online and on digitized texts and resources.

The emergent use of technology, however, is really just a response to the increasingly rapid evolution of technology in which technology is agile, ready at the point of need, and enables the study of complexity in the humanities in ways never before possible.  In other words, it’s the Redefinition mode of SAMR.

The result is that digital technologies are “upending, questioning, or reframing traditional assumptions” on just about everything, but quite clearly on the nature of the university.  After the author’s interesting discussion of how reading and writing have changed in the digital age (i.e, the pedagogical implications of reading in print vs. digital and whether Google makes us stupid), he points out:  The End of College: Creating the Future and the University of Everywhere.

Now this is where I started squirming with staunch reservation (its not the end of college) and, simultaneously, eager agreement on how technology can redefine college: “traditional universities that move quickly and adapt to the opportunities of information technology will become centers of learning in a networked world in which will become centers of learning in the networked University of Everywhere. Those that cannot change will disappear.” I get his point, but I contend there will always be a niche for universities whose constituents are desiring a more nuanced worldview than the mainstream can provide, even if that niche also sees increased pressure to compete.

But here’s the quote that prompted me to write this little reflection.

Carey contends that the university of the future will need to pervasively use information technologies and develop educational models in which scalability will be linked to affordability, learning experiences will become immersive and interactive, credentialing will be fully or partially open sourced, and the calculation of learning according to credit hours, semesters, and weeks will undergo significant alternations in favor of flexible, on-demand, personalized and paced learning processes.

Your thoughts?