hen I began to write books 35 years ago, the duties of instructor, author, and publisher were simple: The instructor instructed the class, the author authored the course textbook, and the publisher published the textbook. The primary source of information was the instructor, but the students also pored over the textbook, reading the material from start to finish, perhaps many times. The textbook was static, its contents fixed in place for years at a time. Although it had the personality of the author, it provided only a one-way interaction: book to student. The student could never query the author.
Let’s jump into the future. Well, in some cases, maybe to just next year. The instructor no longer teaches in the traditional sense, the author no longer writes what we used to think of as a textbook, and the publisher publishes an array of multimedia educational materials.
The instructor is now more of a coordinator than an instructor, making the choices about what topics to cover, what education portals to make available to the students, and what toggle switches to throw in using a publisher’s Web delivery system. The instructor oversees a course but may never actually grade the students or even see the students in person.
The students may never see each other by gathering in a classroom. Instead, they “message” each other while they plug into the information portals provided in the course. Class time is now 24/7, with a continuous flow of information for the duration of the semester. Nor is it static or one-way. Both the information and the delivery methods are flexible, and the students can get help in a variety of formats. In essence, a student has a personal tutor available at the touch of a mouse.
The author still inspires a personal pedagogical vision and the author’s name is still spotlighted to identify that vision, but the author cannot possibly generate all the materials associated with the name or vision. Instead, the author is a member of a large team that produces the materials and then facilitates their use.
The publisher is now more heavily involved with course instruction, providing a wide range of educational materials beyond the traditional textbook. The student may never know the publisher, but their bond can be as tight as electronic communication allows. In fact, a student could now say, “I took the intro course from Publisher X,” as well as from a particular professor or even book author.
All these changes pose a challenge for higher education. Universities and colleges are supposed to produce scholars, but scholarship requires a sense of community. The challenge of teaching by a Web delivery system to individual users, whether across the country or in the same dorm, will be to provide that sense of scholarly community.