Set-Up: Past Meets Present
The authors frame their project by appealing to Cardinal John Henry Newman’s classic work, The Idea of the University. Based on a series of lectures Newman delivered in the mid-1800s, that book responded in part to the changes wrought by the industrial revolution and utilitarian ideologies. Newman argued for the value of a liberal arts university model that emphasized education for education’s sake—one that honors the pursuit of knowledge across the curriculum of science, art, theology and so on, with the aim of shaping student and faculty character.
Such a history makes Newman’s an appropriate predecessor for The Idea of the Digital University, in which the authors seek to articulate the identity of the liberal arts university in a digital age. While other works have treated similar, more specific questions (Will e-books replace physical books? Will online classes replace physical campuses?), McCluskey and Winter instead explore more overarching questions: What does the increasing shift to online education mean for the ethos of a university? How does online education change the enactment of traditional higher education values? In their efforts to express their vision for digital higher education, the authors also address more specific questions about administrative system changes and geographic flexibility.