The University and universities at large must learn to use technology to enhance the learning experience, according to University Provost and President-elect Christopher Eisgruber ’83 in his lecture entitled, “The Changing Landscape of Higher Education:MOOCs, Money and the Future of Liberal Arts Education” in the filled-to-capacity Dodds Auditoriumon Fridayafternoon. The lecture was also streamed live to over 100 people inRobertson Bowl 2and McCosh 10.

Eisgruber began the lecture with a series of stories illustrating the current problems in higher education, which include student debt, quality of education and the emergence of online education options.

“Cost drives much of the change that is now afoot. To state the obvious, if higher education were less expensive—if students graduated with less debt—there would be less pressure for change that we are now seeing,” he said.

He emphasized that despite skeptical reports to the contrary, a college education is still a good investment. Eisgruber cited a report that a college education yields a 15.2 percent return per year.

“The economic evidence strongly suggests that it pays to get a degree, especially a residential liberal arts degree,” he said.

Eisgruber noted that the rapidly growing presence of massive open online courses (MOOC) is also changing the landscape of higher education. He emphasized that the key issue is whether these services can continue and expand the quality of engagement — which he defined as the ability to get students energetically involved in the subject matter — that is present in traditional learning methods.

“My sense is that what Princeton offers—a lot of the reason we all come back here to wear these jackets for Reunions, aside from their satirical elegance—is the intense and unrelenting engagement that this campus offers,” Eisgruber said, motioning to his orange-and-black striped blazer.

Princeton currently uses the Stanford-based company Coursera tooffer online coursesin computer science and world history. Eisgruber said that it has been largely successful so far for the University.

“This experiment has been a success,” Eisgruber said. “The faculty members participating in these Coursera courses have been reenergized by that opportunity to reimagine how they teach their classes. That creativity, this questioning suddenly of whether or not what they’ve been doing is right with the introduction of new techniques and new ways of teaching in the classroom, that benefits engagement.”

Eisgruber also discussed the importance of determining methods that effectively quantify the academic success of universities. He cited three methods identified bya University committee in a report produced this past year. Eisgruber did not provide specifics about the report.

These include a meaningful student learning experience through high levels of student-faculty contact, high levels of academic performance through rigorous faculty evaluations and post-graduation outcomes, such as alumni satisfaction and placement rates.

Eisgruber concluded his lecture with a call for alumni to consider supporting public universities that face challenges due to the decrease in state and federal funding.

“In the decade to come, one of the most important things we as Princetonians can do to be in the nation’s service is to continue not only to support our own University but also to make the case for this country’s public universities,” he said.

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