08 July 2009

The Edgeless University (and Polytechnic?)

Keith Lyons in Canberra mentioned this report, so I noted it for a read. While its yet another PDF (the format of the academics as they ponder the worth of hypertext), and just as guilty of being a self referential sample of [mostly unheard of people's] opinion (this time UK based), it is still worth a read - even if all you need is a nice little reaffirmation of what edubloggers have been writing about for 5 or more years now.

I found this report quite a clear and to the point argument on how higher education needs to think about changing practices to align with pressures brought about (broadly speaking) by information and communications technology. I feel good in saying that the relatively small proportion of educational development we have been doing the past 3 years, fits all the recommendations in the report (even if we are just a little Polytechnic). George is right to point out that it is not just a technological disruption putting pressure on the universities, but I would say that it is the most significant element - in that it enables so many other disruptive elements and change agents to take shape and strengthen. As the report itself says:

With an increasing diversity of students and student needs,
fierce competition, and a crunch on funding, it is not surprising
that some commentators are predicting the end of the university
as we have known it...

...This [change] is driven by people finding new ways to access and use ideas and knowledge, by new networks of learning and innovation, and by collaborative research networks that span institutions and businesses. It is an increasingly international phenomenon. Across the globe, countries are pushing for greater advantages in education and innovation. There is an ever-growing environment of learning, research and knowledge exchange of which universities are one part.

So to a very large degree, information and communications technology - but more importantly, people's growing capacity to independently use such technology, is stimulating much of that change. For example, in the time I have been here at Otago Polytechnic, it is observable (I think) that as people sign up to broadband and become more accustomed to using the Internet for more and more tasks, the types and breadth of educational conversations are changing along with it.

This report, in the format it comes to us in, is evidence to me that the messages of change are filtering up through the establishment relatively clean and uncorrupted. What the edublogs have been talking about for over 5 years now is making it through unscathed. Either this is a sign of the message being worthy and getting taken seriously - or (considering the self referential nature of these pdfs lately) a sign of a cynical embrace of change at a rhetorical level only! Time will tell, my bets are on history repeating itself I'm sorry to say.

Some perla quotes from the report:
The aim has to be to make those running universities realise that technology isn’t just something that means you build a room full of computers on your campus
Malcolm Read, Executive Secretary, JISC

This is where a university’s values can reassert themselves.
As more content is available, guidance and expertise in sorting
and assessing it become more valuable. As more people seek
flexible and informal learning, they will need the accreditation
and support of established institutions. As researchers and
learners try to acquire the skills of searching, analysing and
sorting information, the expertise of academics will be
invaluable. As learners look to assert the value of their learning,
and researchers their work, affiliation to established institutions
will signal valuable quality.
P12. That has to me too many times before!

This will require a commitment to open content and shared
resources, and investment in the management and curatorship of
vast amounts of data and knowledge. It will also mean offering
new kinds of courses, accreditation and affiliation that use
informal learning and research networks and connect them to the
formal system.
P13. And boy does Otago need to invest in management and curatorship. I've pushed for library services to no avail...

In an expert roundtable conducted by Demos, one participant
used a telling analogy to describe the current predicament of the
higher education sector: ‘This seminar feels a bit like sitting with
a group of record industry executives in 1999.’
P13. Nice one! Sharp and so true. Educational policy is decades behind those who have gone before

Still reading... starting to nod off tho. Pdfs! they're so long! Seeing as Michael Wesch is in there as aninterviewee, I might just watch one of his videos again ;)

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