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2015 August 4 - 10:25 am

Community Colleges: Where Low Tech and High Tech Collide

August 2015 is here. Microsoft is announcing for the end of summer's dog days Windows 10, a "new" and "free" version of its operating system, called fittingly a system "d'exploitation" in French, and other "high tech" novelties try to lure us out of the doldrums as well, including driverless automobiles, supersonic space searchers, and package-delivering drones.

As the French magazine Le Point has stated, a "putsch" is upon us to promote the new and the "more secure", to do away with the old and the "too open." The social/demographic problems provoked by over-population continue to promote fear and to provoke countries to seek "high-tech" solutions. 

In the meantime, France and Germany, where old architecture often houses new technological wizardry and where the European Union remains at once an attempt to unite against the techno-cultural force de frappe imposed by the United States of America and an effort to regain and then retain a consistency of strength among small nations such as Greece and Portugal alongside larger economies, the move is being made toward "low-tech", or even "no-tech" to solve at least some of the problems posed by population pollution. 

In France, for example, a plan is being promoted to increase the use of bicycles in the center of Paris.  Mayor Anne Hidalgo has proposed at least doubling the "axes" of bicycle use in the city, where 1400 kilometers of new bicycle routes are to be laid down, in the hope of making the city "The European Capital of Cycling." The mayor has pointed out that her city once had very few automobiles, its streets were never planned to serve the automobile as common transport, and people have been buying larger and more polluting cars, despite all that. Smog has enveloped the City of Light, and orange alerts have been called to try to keep people indoors, on their feet, or on bikes.

And in Germany, a system that Wired magazine calls an Autobahn for cyclists is being proposed for the city of Munich: 14 two-way bike paths are to be constructed over an area of 400 square miles, to encourage commuting to and from city and suburbs by bicycle. Birgit Kastrop, an urban planner in Germany, has pointed out that the country's freeways and public transportation services are "at near capacity,” adding that "research has tied increased cycling rates to social, economic, environmental, and health" benefits, as Wired writes. 

In the meantime, Americans are ever more wedded to the electronic each day and in novel ways. Caloric expenditure and intake, articles and books read, messages sent or just thought about—all can be recorded and retained for safekeeping. New automobiles are larger. Why use a hair-messing and sweat-inducing bicycle when we can roll in surround-sound and Bluetooth comfort in a SUV? New technology is more pervasive--why wait for a taxi or order a hotel room when Uber and Airbnb can serve quickly? And why order from a restaurant waiter when a cellphone connection is available to the kitchen? 

What does all this have to do with community colleges? Let's think about it.

For most of their educational lives, community colleges have existed to serve the underserved or the un-served, the poor, the left out, the left behind, the untraditional. We have also been the best among higher education options at changing in accordance with demand, at meeting students wherever they might be and transforming them into learners. We were the first post-secondary schools to offer short-term, on-demand courses, the first to integrate certificate programs into academe and industry simultaneously, and the first to be strongly and substantially online. 

But we have also to remain sensitive to our origins, to our base. In southern California, it is becoming ever more difficult to get to class without an automobile; public transportation is, like that in Germany, "at capacity," but we have no plans to resolve that problem. The students without a car are stranded, and bicycle routes are few and dangerous. In the southern California areas where I work, bicyclists take their lives on their wheels, and public transportation prices are rising, even as service is being cut. Students are left behind if they are without computers and/or smartphones—and yes, in a district that includes Little Saigon and poverty-level Santa Ana, Garden Grove, and Costa Mesa, we do have such students, still relying on pencils, pens, paper notebooks, and hardbound texts—can scarcely sign up for classes, and getting to them is an insurmountable difficulty. 

And so, I submit, community colleges must remain faithful to the tradition of being the malleable members of the higher education world. How can we move forward with the highest of tech, while remaining faithful to our call to serve the underserved and the un-served? We must remain sensitive, I believe, and we must be open to student needs, if not demands. We must continue to recall the Learning Paradigm of some decades ago, in which it was stated that "no policy, practice, or program" shall exist or be sustained that does not serve the student, that does not incite in him the motivation toward learning.

High tech, low tech, everywhere tech, or no tech, our students are with us to learn, and that must remain our securest option.

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