My Real University. Is here. Now.

In my late teens or early twenties, I decided I wanted to set up a ‘Real University’. Something like a cross between the Open University, a market square, a festival and a Flying Circus. One incarnation was a very small band of friends travelling the world with a video camera and player, capturing ideas and solutions in one remote village and playing them to the next village along, before capturing theirs, etc etc.

Many years and a career in architecture later, the Real University idea is still in my head, piqued whenever I come across someone who has done something similar. Which now happens several times a day, online. And by my architecture work leading me back into Education, with a very physical, local, personal-interaction dimension.

Tonight I had something of a brainwave, caused by LWF/GrahamBM and a blog post on Digital Innovation by DigitalTonto. That I am living MY Real University, and by extension so can everyone else. My faculty is online. My colleagues and fellow students are online. The information is online. It doesn’t matter where I am physically – my Campus is right here. Wherever I am, wherever they are. All of us are teachers and learners together. All of us are creating and lecturing and critiquing and organising and meeting and publishing, all the time.

There has been a lot of Press coverage in the UK this week about Oxford and Cambridge Universities. They epitomise our implicit hierarchy of trust: long-established, venerable institutions of educational excellence. I always struggle to work out how to make my latest idea, website, blog, business, creation ‘more valid’: respected, known, used, valued, recommended … paid for. Located. Recognisable. ‘Real’. I feel I have to, in order to ‘succeed’. We all do.

I’ve just realised that my paradigm is completely wrong. And it is holding me back. I AM doing it, I AM doing all those things, achieving all those things, just not in the usual ways. I AM publishing my ideas and putting them in front of people who matter, people who matter to me and more widely. But not through a book, through Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or WordPress or email, or all of those. I AM contributing to a growing body of knowledge and creation, supporting and peer-reviewing my colleagues. I AM linking my online world with my physical world, my past with my future via my present.

It just isn’t more complicated than that. We all tend to look for complication as proof of authenticity, of quality, of value. And in doing so, overlook the main, hugely positive, game.

We still think spelling is important – no, ideas are important, actions are important, communication is important. I will learn more about you from your twitterfeed than any graduation certificate. When I meet you face to face for the first time we will pick up where the online conversation left off. We are increasingly informal and playful in our professional interactions, yet will revert to old formalities for security. We will laugh at this within three years, confident that ‘trustworthy’ does not equate to ‘boring’, nor ‘fun’ to ‘trivial’, nor ‘online’ to ‘less-than real’.

Welcome to my university/universe-city. It’s real. It’s online and offline. It’s here, it’s now, it’s me. I am glad it intersects with yours.

Finally, back to Oxford and Cambridge. This week the students are protesting against university fees rising to £9k/year. Instead it should be the universities worrying, about how they will persuade anyone to pay that. It may not be long before students realise that they don’t need to pay anyone, pass an entrance test or wait until they are 18 to attend their own Real University, and have the whole world of learning and doing laid out before them. I give it five years max.

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