Earlier this month I made an offer to news organizations, that I would work with one or two or all of them to revolutionize the way they offer news to their community. I have a very simple proposal, which I outlined in the piece. It would require guts. But it takes guts to live, and there's no security in any of it. No takers, so far, but John Robinson of the News-Record in Greensboro, NC called publicly on editors to do it. For which I am thankful.
I have a similar offer to universities. I thought I might outline it here, although I've written about the idea quite a few times.
Let's start a program where we teach students to run their own servers. They set one up, install a few apps and administer them. Support users. If they want, add features, or even write their own server-side apps.
We always get stuck in this loop in relationship to technology. We, users, get caught waiting for the guys in the air-conditioned palaces to give us the stuff we want. Eventually we get tired, and break out of the wonderful jails they create for us. Then we do this dance again. And again. We should also teach the students the history of tech, so they can, in their careers which will stretch deep into the 21st Century, to recognize this, and to circumvent it.
Taking the mystique out of running a server is step one. A server is just a laptop that is on all the time and has a persistent net connection. And a fixed address. You can get to it from where ever you are, from any device. Otherwise it's just a computer. That's the Aha! moment. From there, it's pure fun (for a certain kind of person, of course).
I think ultimately this should be a required course, but I doubt that will happen. Just as I believe every student should take a semester of accounting, so they know how to do their own taxes, and know how to vote on matters of tax policy. And I also think in the age of blogging, every student should take an introductory class in journalism, so they know how to ask questions, and to tell a story, and the importance of disclosure. With everyone writing publicly, it would be great if an education included some practice at doing this well.
Universities are right to move onto the Internet. But that's not just a matter of putting the faculty online, teaching TED-like classes, which no doubt are, and deseve to be, popular. It's also a matter of putting the future on the Internet, in meaningful and powerful ways. For that, the place to turn is the student body.