Effective learning requires more than simple access to knowledge. It also requires reflection and application. Technology has been changing how this process works. In the year 800 access was through lectures. Since there were no printed textbooks, reflection occurred through note-taking and, most crucially, comparing notes with other students. The invention of the printing press changed things by providing access to knowledge through textbooks without the necessity of taking and comparing notes. Our response to this technological change was to do nothing and the process suffered. In Physics, for example, it has been shown that lectures are about 10% effective at reducing wrong answers on conceptual tests. The textbooks could be very helpful if we could get our students to actually read them but they often just use them to look up answers for homework assignments.
We need to put back the reflection and application pieces of the process. Most of us are already using classroom response systems to encourage discussion in class. Online discussion forums also help, but it is difficult to get students to take them seriously. The most powerful way to encourage reflection and application is to get student to create and share content that they care about. At the graduate level, we have them write theses. Most undergraduate programs have senior capstone courses that are very project-oriented. Some universities extend the project-model to the undergraduate curriculum with Qualifying Projects replacing courses at all levels.
The technology of the internet offers some additional ways to encourage students to construct their understanding in ways that are easier to manage than full thesis-like projects. Students can construct content, based on their course materials and on their own interests. Sharing this content on the open internet will encourage them to take ownership of it and make it a valid reflection and application of what they have learned.
In essence, the proposal is that we return to the year 800 and have students write and share their own textbooks.