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Globalisation and the ‘Learning Revolution’

Page history last edited by Gary Hall 11 years ago

Higher education has reflected the influences of globalisation for decades, if not centuries. Within the current generation, the courting of international, fee-paying students, the initiation of global franchises, partnerships and ‘systems’, as well as the development of (long-)distance learning packages testify, in a variety of ways, to the steady enlargement of individual Higher Educational Institutions’ operational terrain (their ‘market’), and the opportunities that are perceived to exist in an expansion of the traditional responsibilities — and de facto  relationships — of universities to a particular locale, its civic, regulatory and funding bodies, and its potential student community.

Over the past five years, however, a phase shift has occurred in this process. The factors determining this change (global economic, social and governmental trends, the onward race of technology, growing infrastructural capacity, corporate concentration of capital, transnational rights-based agreements and goals on provision) are typified by their variety and complex interrelationships. Equally, it is impossible to say which constituency is in overall command or leading change. Indeed, it might be said that, often, no one is in charge. Increasingly, the long and even short-term ‘strategies’ adopted by HEIs are defined by one of the most opaque areas of academic governance: the relationship between vendors, IT staff, and legal staff. Implementing systems that merely comply with diverse legal demands (privacy, intellectual property, and security), is a backwards-compatible strategy, and minimising ‘support’ demands in itself is a daunting task. In such a context, ‘innovation’ of almost any flavour is widely perceived in pessimistic terms - as risk. As a result, IT in higher education is often shaded with radically conservative stances.

‘Telepresent’ learning, meanwhile, has become such a common cultural vernacular that the term should probably be dismissed as quaint. Endlessly fussing with gadgets and systems is ‘ubiquitous’ or ‘pervasive’; and explaining how to resolve this or that problem — with a device, a procedure, an organisation — has become, for many, second nature. Instructional videos on almost any and every subject imaginable, sometimes quite complex and procedural, are available on sites such as YouTube and Instructables.com. Yet beneath these overt forms there lie oceans of documents that are not typically recognised as ‘instructional’ such as video-game walkthroughs and ‘cheats,’ FAQs, how-tos, discussion forums, ‘tips’ and ‘tricks,’ guides, and so on. The applied nature of these resources no doubt helps shape, perhaps decisively, the ways in which explicitly educational materials are received — for example, by providing a wealth of para-pedagogical examples and contributing to the expectation that these materials should enable the student to do something.

The Open Educational Practices and Resources (OCOLS) Roadmap 2012, authored in 2007, already speaks of students feeling ‘powered down’ when they enter the classroom and hand in their work.  The teachers consulted for the report perceived their students as deflated by the lack of connectedness – and, in the case of submitted work, by speaking to an audience of one when their social media activity reached so many more than that. The question is: do the seemingly ‘peripheral’ and ‘non-intellectual’ pedagogies that shape students’ expectations offer a more productive and applicable model of education than many educators are ready — or willing — to acknowledge? And, more to the point in this context, do they offer useful examples for media educators in the academy? What, at this moment of enormous turbulence — wherein Open Education threatens to break the banks of the university and escape it entirely — can the inherent particularities of Higher Education Institutions still offer?

At issue is not so much ‘catching up’. It is rather that the academy as an institution can ‘learn along with’ by analysing and adopting fruitful techniques, often from non-obvious contexts. Academia is plagued by tendentious confusions concerning expertise in the subject matter and material vs expertise in teaching — lots of people know X or Y but are uninspiring teachers. The ‘pedagogical turn’ coursing through vast swathes of contemporary culture offers a fertile field for disentangling some of these confusions, and for academia to learn new and alternative ways of ‘delivering’ knowledge (and especially for including pedagogical and curricular models that perceive education in a radically different way, rather than simply being about ‘delivery’ or even established ‘knowledge’). In theory, forward-looking HEIs who might explore such approaches have the potential to help many others in a diverse range of fields.


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