A ‘Brave New World’ of Higher Education?

1 Apr

I’m reading lots of discussions at the moment about whether there is a need to change the way that Higher Education is delivered – this invariably linked to the idea  of technology enhanced learning (TEL). On the one side of this debate is fervent emphasis upon the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning, and the need for a new approach to meet the needs and demands of a new generation of student-consumers. On the other, the traditionalists dismiss both the idea of a need for a new approach, and the capacity of new technologies to add value: the former is moral panic and the latter a gimmick.

But whatever your viewpoint this whole debate suggests a need to make some kind of momentous decision. But how can this be? Social change is gradual. These debates are becoming mainstream precisely because the change is happening – gradually and not necessarily in the directions we imagine and talk about now – but of course happening. Universities are changing the way they attract, and teach, students: more traditional, red-brick institutions might be more resistant to this change, but are inevitably following the innovative trends set by the competition.  This is driven by the perceived expectations of students which are, in turn, shaped by the attitude of the universities, as well as state rheroric internalised from the assertions of school teachers and careers advisors that a degree is the way into a good job. The fact that students now purchase Higher Education supports the idea that they are doing so for tangible future gain.

We also live in a time where social attitudes and political discourse favour ‘networking’ and knowledge transfer over more ‘traditional’ didactic teaching. ICT has a hand in this as it introduces the idea that the imperative becomes not ‘knowing’ a subject inside-out, but knowing where and how to access different information about it. Knowledge is shared between business and academia, experts from different disciplines and students and their teachers. Academics no longer teach students a set of facts, but are responsible for encouraging them to enquire for themselves.

Is this so new? For a long time we have valued teaching that goes beyond rote learning – project-based learning in the fields of science, technology and engineering undermines the sense that this is a new phenomenon. Students of the arts have long been encouraged to make and defend their own interpretations of the subject matter. So what change does increasing use of ICT in teaching represent? Seemingly little more than experimentation with new tools to continue this trend of innovative teaching – whereas the fear of TEL perhaps links more tangibly to distaste for all things new: the changing place of Higher Education in society, and the new tools which have become available to support teaching and learning. The suggestion that these are intrinsically linked is an exaggeration, and one which justifies this fear rather than facing it.

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One Response to “A ‘Brave New World’ of Higher Education?”

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  1. My big TEL question | And another thing... - April 4, 2013

    […] is being increasingly integrated into all aspects of human life, including education. The fact that we do not fully understand this process is, I believe, justification for returning regularly to my big […]

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