‘The Survival of Higher Education’ by @timbuckteeth

I’ve been following and talking with Professor Steve Wheeler for several years now, and have had the honour of presenting at his Pelecon conference and sharing the billing at the eAssessment Scotland conference.

Steve often writes individual posts or, like recently, he writes a series of post with common themes to expand or challenge a certain approach or concept of education – his 2010 series on ‘Distance Learning / Distance Education’ initiated some interesting discussions. Steve has, this time, been looking at the survival of Higher Education – please read all of Steve’s posts, you know you’ll be the  better for it.

I’ve linked to Steve’s original work here, as well as my response I posted to his website – I concentrate on  specific aspect of his posts/series, but please be sure to read the full posts so my comments (and the quotes) are not taken out of context: 

The survival of higher education by Steve WheelerThe survival of higher education (1): Changing roles

“The embedding of digital technology into the fabric of everyday study has also changed the way students learn (Colllis and Moonen, 2002) and is more in keeping with what younger people expect (Veen and Vrakking, 2006). Now students can assume more responsibility for their own learning and design their own study trajectories. They are able to learn while on the move using personal devices, and are able to access a vast storehouse of knowledge through ubiquitous access to the Web. Communication is also an easier prospect with texting, instant messaging and shared learning spaces becoming ever more common place. In many ways, and for most students, it would be hard to conceive of a way of learning and working that was devoid of the Web, e-mail or mobile phones.”

I replied “yet, despite the movement towards ‘student as agents‘ is there not also talk about the reluctance to engage with students in this way? I read about so many examples of teachers and educators trying new and different approaches to engagement and ‘learning’  yet the common theme of all the posts is the seemingly lack of support from their management and/or school authority. Is it the technology that is scary or the concept of including the students in devising and creating their own learning … after all, how do they know what they need to know as they don’t know it yet?”

The survival of higher education (2): Changing times

“The essential premise underpinning the use of any Social Web application is that over a period of time it genuinely becomes self-supporting, and that the students will enjoy the freedom to produce their own content and study pathways. The problem with this is that students may not always be as accurate or fastidious in their content generation as they could be, and may need guidance on the pathway they choose to take. However, there is evidence that students begin to support each other when they share the same online space and have mutual goals to achieve.”

This can be the best and worst element of the inclusion of social tools in a learning environment – for some it will take longer to learn the tool than perhaps to learn the subject? We already recognise the importance of including new tools, software, or technology in a sensitive manner, but we cannot escape the fact that some will adopt it easily and quickly, and for others it will be a barrier to the actual learning and put them off the whole process.

I guess it’s a case of “know your audience” and include when and where you think appropriate and, if necessary, be prepared to adjust so individuals are not disadvantaged?

The survival of higher education (3): The Social Web

“There is a sense from many younger students that the institutional managed learning environments are not popular tools, because they fail in comparison to the more colourful, flexible and accessible social networking tools that are available for free on the internet. Further, students enjoy personalising their online spaces, a task that is not particularly easy or positively discouraged within institutional systems. This is particularly evident on a cursory inspection of any social web space, whether it be Facebook, Snapchat or any other popular free space. Students ‘pimp’ their pages, adding colour and textures, favourite images, links to their favourite websites, including mashups to video sharing sites such as YouTube and photo sites such as Flickr. This was often impossible or forbidden on university and college sites, where a corporate branding and image uniformity was enforced and surveillance imposed.”

How do we, the ‘institution’, deal with this? Many Institutions have an expensive and ‘recommended’ learning management system (LMS) or virtual learning environment (VLE) which, obviously, they want to see used in order to tick a box to say it’s being used and it’s been worth the effort and money spent on implementing it.

If these systems are not up to scratch, that they don’t or can’t mirror the systems and tools students are used to using in their everyday ‘social’ activities then is the time of the single-instance LMS / VLE come? Are we better off using off using multiple tools (with multiple sign in accounts) for our needs (Apps, DropBox, WordPress, FaceBook, Twitter, etc.) or does the single sign-on system still have it’s place?

The survival of Higher Education (4): 5 key objectives

Steve makes some good points here about what ‘we’ need to do to make technology less conspicuous and more inclusive, that  it’s not always good to lead the drive for this technology but it’s possibly worse to be the follower or laggard?

“Teachers need to see the relevance and application of new technologies. For teachers to adopt new technologies, they must first see the applications and understand the benefits (as well as the limitations) of the tool. If a tool adds nothing new to the teaching and learning equation it will be perceived as irrelevant and will be rejected (cf. Norman, 1990).”

As always I can go back to my age old answer that the inclusion and use of any technology, not just for education or learning, needs to be ‘appropriate’ and ‘considered’, that there needs to be a reason for it’s use and that it needs to add something to the requirement for learning. The reason for implementing something new or something innovative can be as simple as saving time, increasing efficiency, improving effectiveness, streamlining workflow, etc. but the improvement should be as a result of the technology, not because of it.

The survival of Higher Education (5): Recommendations

“Teachers may see new technologies either as opportunities or as threats. Whatever their views, the teachers who are most likely to be successful will be those who embed new technologies into their courses, and who adopt a role that us supportive of flexible and mobile learning. Technology will not replace teachers, but teachers who adopt new technologies will probably replace those who don’t.”

I know that for my two boys – one just started school, the other starting in September – I want their teachers to prepare them for the world they live in. This is not the world the teachers (of whatever experience or background) were trained in or grew up in themselves, this is the world in which my two boys live in NOW. This world has touch screens and streaming video, it has gesture control and games with artificial intelligence, it has possibilities and no apparent limitations. If my children are to survive and flourish in tomorrow’s world then it starts now; at school , at home, with friends, with teachers.

Photo by Felix Burton on Wikimedia Commons.