Several months ago, there was a metaverse festival at a university in Seoul. Students were invited to the campus realized in virtual space. They created their own avatars and walked around the virtual campus. They were able to visit different colleges, enjoy outdoor performances or even communicate with other avatars there. And it was met with an enthusiastic reception. Students of other universities were more than jealous, wishing they had had such a festival. Putting aside the reminiscence about old ways of college festivals, online communities were noisy with talks and discussions about virtual campus.
Sticking to face-to-face classes seems now to be the preserve of the older generation. Current situations come as a shame for those who experienced college life on a campus that offered not only academic opportunities but social and extracurricular occasions. The students these days, however, do not seem to be taking this non-contact environment as a negative one. According to data of a Korean magazine, around 63 percent of college students in Korea prefer the current contactless way of learning to continue for the time being. It is certainly a better way to contain the spread of the virus, but few students would have supported it without any merits in the current system.
Let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of the contact-free way of learning. Students can take classes wherever they want. It is even possible to join the class from abroad. Classes can also be recorded so that one can replay it as many times as wanted for better understanding or to catch up with the missed part. Moreover, it enables one to spend the time in between lectures more efficiently. However, it could make the class uninteresting without students’ direct participation. The quality of classes could also be undermined by poor preparation of the lecturer or by the issues related to transmission. College life could be monotonous on the whole. Strengths and weaknesses of face-to-face system would be exactly the opposite.
What would it be like in the post-corona era then? Would everything turn back to what it used to be before, or would universities shift their courses entirely online? Many are predicting that most of the current forms of universities would disappear. It is being said that in-person classes could be restored at first, but more schools would probably choose the online format over the offline, which in turn would leave only a few renowned universities that survive. Some even venture to say that schools and colleges might disappear into history. Nevertheless, I still believe that schools will remain important in the future, and expect that new forms of schools will be created with only the strengths of contact and non-contact classes adopted.
Minerva University is among those that are drawing attention in terms of future schools. Minerva University is an innovative form of school where all classes are online-based and students gain hands-on experience in diverse fields by collaborating with organizations in different cities around the world. Students at Minerva are not provided with classrooms at fixed locations, but are given opportunities to learn wherever they are to widen their perspectives. They are not listeners of the lecture but take the lead in researching and communicating. It is a way of learning ‘individually and collaboratively.’
Another idea that is worth noting in relation to future school is the ‘subject specializing’ strategy suggested by professor Kim Sangkyun of Kangwon National University. It is a kind of upgraded credit exchange program among universities. By putting the focus of the class on more specific content according to the field of each professor, students are given more diverse options in choosing what they want to learn. For example, if a class on entrepreneurship is provided in both A and B universities, ‘the entrepreneurship to boost the local economy’ can be the focus of the class in A university whereas ‘the entrepreneurship for global start-ups’ can be the focal point of the class in B university. Students of both universities who want to take a class on entrepreneurship are able to choose whichever class they want on the online platform.
The keyword that I choose for the future education here is ‘communication’ and ‘individualization.’ What differentiates future universities from those of today is that future models pursue student-oriented classes, going beyond the system of mass education. Classes provided online do not necessarily accept as many students as possible, and there are enrollment caps in each class whereas there are hardly spatial constraints. I have recently heard of a university online class which accepted more students than they used to offline, only to undermine the quality of the class. It is obvious that the quality of classes, where presentation, discussion, and individual feedback are critical parts, is affected by the number of enrolled students. Online classes are different from TV shows or YouTube live streaming. Students are not the viewers of the lecture, but the main agents of the class.
I might be being too idealistic. Everyone knows that classes should be student-oriented, but there are often many discouraging conditions in reality Yet online classes have opened new possibilities
in education, letting us provide more individualized and student-oriented education without spatial constraints. For example, students in Korea are placed in certain grades according to their age as they start the elementary education. Students of the same age learn together in one class and keeping up with others is entirely on one’s own. It is different in the online education system. Students are placed based on their learning level, not on their age. They can repeat the level or go on to an advanced class depending on their progress. It is also possible to place students with the same interests in the same class. Since there is no physical space to separate the more advanced classes from others, students can be free from the stress caused by direct comparison with others. The idea is to help foster students’ competences, not to line them up to see who comes first and who comes last.
To implement such an education system requires enhanced support from people and organizations. The solution for a better online class is not increasing the enrollment cap of the class but expanding the faculty, and establishing schools and courses with diverse features. I dream of the future where there are various kinds of schools, schools that are small but with unique characteristics. I hope the schools in the future, connected online, will be full of talents of unique and active personality.
Kim Seyeon / Translated by Ok Eurom