Have you read An Avalanche is Coming my DoS asks. It should be a must-read now Michael Barber is head of the Office for Students (OfS) – replacing the Office for Fair Access and HEFCE.
I’d just looked at the Securing student success: risk-based regulation for teaching excellence, social mobility and informed choice in higher education Government consultation on behalf of the Office for Students which was also a a DoS recommend. Like this. ‘Whether you are a student, work in HE, or intend to work in HE after graduation, the consultation matters to you. Have a look at it, see what changes are planned.’ So I did.
My approach with chunky digital docs is the Find function. First off the search is for digital, online, virtual, technology – this indicates if it might be relevant to my research topic of digital shifts – next up are pedagogy, teaching and learning. So, relatively painlessly I discovered the government in the consultation document is still using the language of revolution and transformation by technology. ‘Artificial intelligence and other technology might revolutionise assessment, educational research might transform pedagogy.’ (2017: 48)
At least they’re using the word ‘might’ but still cause for concern. Technology was bestowed with transformative potential back in the 1990s. Has it happened? There’s little evidence it has and much to the contrary. Other than widen access for some (and create barriers for others) alongside the mass digitisation of resources, policy and processes, the literature suggests technology has neither revolutionised nor transformed student learning.
The lecture is not yet dead!
Instead, a trail of rejected, unfulfilled promises litter the ed-tech landscape; VLE, Web 2.0, MOOC, mobile – picking up stuff like Second Life and Oculus Rift along the way – toward Learning Analytics, more virtual reality and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Each one a technology-first approach. All with technology determinist foundations. Each with scant evidence of critical questioning around who creates and develops it, markets, purchases, controls access etc (apart from the overall critiques from the likes of Neil Selwyn, Sian Bayne, Audrey Watters et. al. of course)
With this thinking in mind I approached An Avalanche is Coming, published by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) with three authors (Michael Barber, Katelyn Donnelly, Saad Rizvi) affiliated with Pearson Publishing Corporation. They refer to learners as “customers” and discuss six change factors, claiming these could challenge the university as we know it and set off the avalanche of change.
- changing global economy,
- crisis-ridden global economy,
- rising costs of higher education,
- declining value of a traditional degree,
- ubiquity of content,
- quickening intensity of competition in the educational marketplace.
The authors also introduce the concept of unbundling and rebundling which is the inclusion and exclusion of traditional university components – thereby potentially separating out aspects of HE provision to third party providers.
I hang on the adage where there’s change there’s also opportunity.
What did the Find button reveal?
References to technology, e.g. increased global access, expansion of competition, greater choices etc are all familiar, as is the need for students to shift from consuming knowledge towards evidencing a diversity of creative and innovative learning experiences and abilities. Put together, all this constitutes the need for digital shifts on institutional, pedagogical and personal levels. None of which is new. The problem has always been technology as the answer when it’s not the T for Technology in TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) but the T for teaching in LTE (Learning and Teaching Enhancement) which needs attention.
Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in Academically Adrift persuasively argue (to those in favour of market-oriented reforms of education) that reconstructing students as consumers ‘does not necessarily yield improved outcomes in student learning.’ (2011, p. 137)
Ok – this is the crux. We’re chasing the chasing the golden egg, looking for the rainbow’s end, each Yellow Brick Road contains echoes of the emperors new clothes. The fairy tale analogies are deliberate because FT are stories imbued with universal truths. They survive because we recognise their message. They have resonance. So it is with the quest for learning improvement. The secret is under our noses. It’s been there all along. Where there is widening participation, support for transition needs to be addressed. Where technology is promoted the necessary philosophical and pedagogic changes in practice need to be supported.
So when it comes to the enhancement of learning and teaching, what is needed is inquiry of the pedagogical rather than technological kind. This doesn’t need revolution or even transformation. The roots are already in place. The majority of students learn best through discussion, dialogue, sharing, questioning, comparing, contrasting, getting out of their comfort zone in supportive collegial environments alongside the processes of critical thinking and reflection. Addressing questions such as these:
- What worked well and why?
- What worked less well and why?
- What should I do again?
- What should I do differently?
More time and resource on transition into HE, in particular the differences between the learning and teaching culture and expectations of school, college and university, would enable students to hit the ground running.
Giving those who teach and support learning the time allocation – plus reward and recognition – to become research informed and engaged with regard to their own teaching practice – would enable them to develop the active learning environments which the literature shows students perform best in.
I’d also suggest rethinking curriculums to embody learning development at both generic and subject knowledge levels, alongside digital graduate attributes, internationalisation, employability, and inclusive practices.
A three pronged approach – students, staff, curriculum…
and they all learned happily ever after.
Written on a research day…
Everything is related…