Licklider and Brown: Technology in Higher Education
John Seely Brown references a Harvard study that concluded that the best predictor of college success is for students to join a peer study group. Interaction in peer study groups allows for a peer to peer type of teaching, which enhances understanding and mastery of course content (Brown, 2010). If the results of the study are valid, then the consequences could be enormous for higher education. As noted by Licklider, “The meeting of many interacting minds…may produce not just a solution to a problem, but a new set of rules for solving problems. That, of course, is the essence of creative interaction” (Licklider, 1990, p. 24, para 2). With the support of faculty the creation of such peer study groups could become an expected student undertaking, with students committing themselves to directly participating in the creation of the learning environment both inside and outside the classroom.
In addition to study groups, technology also has the ability to bring together people who simply share common interests. Brown uses the example of World of Warcraft (WoW), an online game. Licklider states that “life will be happier for the on-line individual because the people with whom one interacts most strongly will be selected more by commonality of interests and goals rather than accidents of proximity” (Licklider, 1990, p. 40, para. 3). Brown notes how WoW players are able to learn from one another and provide tutorials for more challenging parts of the game. This “joint collective agency” essentially brings people together and can serve as a support system for its users (Brown, 2010). This could be transferred over to higher education by providing sites for like-minded individuals to engage in shared activities or even allow for online support groups. In turn, according to Licklider, those people will be happier, which ideally would lead to higher retention rates because students have an outlet for acceptance and a forum in which to enjoy commonalities.
Brown also alludes to the idea that the half-life of our technology skills continue to shrink. In addition to explaining information and learning from others, students are also going to have to adapt to the constant change in the technology landscape (Brown, 2010). Technology, as Brown and Licklider both allude to, are an integral part of society, education, and the workforce. Today’s college students need to be technologically literate upon graduation and continue to be lifelong learners of technology changes.
As an example of applying technology skills in higher education, students must be able to use computers and technology devices to find information, as information can be communicated through digital technology almost instantly. Brown discusses how a surfing community can share new moves over the internet and the larger surfing community will be attempting the new moves within 48 hours of the posting (Brown, 2010). Licklider predicted the impact of virtual sharing by stating “[…] now the move is on to interconnect the separate communities and thereby transform them into, let us call it, a supercommunities” (Licklider, 1990, p. 32, para. 1). The internet not only connects us socially, but also intellectually, as we are now able to share ideas and information with ease and efficiency through technology mediums.
Being able to share and receive ideas and information so quickly has resulted in Brown calling devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.) curiosity amplifiers rather than communication devices. It is an accurate portrayal, as many times people are on their devices to get directions to a location, read news articles, learn how to create something or even look up an actor’s filmography (Brown, 2010). Licklider seems to agree, noting “…there will be plenty of opportunity for everyone…to find his calling, for the whole world of information…will be open to him — with programs ready to guide him or to help him explore” (Licklider, 1990, p. 40 para. 3). While most people think of devices as lifelines to communication, they are really so much more — they are the direct lines to learning about virtually any field or discipline in the world. This allows students to engage in course materials in-depth if they are interested in learning more about certain subjects, and it can certainly help with classroom discussion. I like classes that begin with students bringing in articles or news that they’ve found that helps further understanding and/or debate about whatever the class topic is.
Licklider, J. C. R., & Taylor, R. W. (1990). In memoriam, JCR Licklider, 1915–1990 (No. 61). Digital, Systems Research Center.
Brown, John Seely [NewMediaConsortium], (2010, June 22). John Seely Brown Closing Keynote 2010 NMC Conference. Retrieved from