Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Post-pandemic university - real or cosmetic change?

Photo by Loïc Fürhoff on Unsplash

Educational technology enables us to rethink teaching and learning. It offers us the opportunity to widen participation in education, create more accessible and inclusive learning spaces and to offer greater levels of flexibility and collaboration. That sounds great but why haven't we seen this revolution yet, even after the pandemic? There seems instead to be a backlash against online education now that campuses are "back to normal".  The trouble is that changing the way that universities teach is not simply in the hands of digitally skilled teachers and support staff. The whole system needs to change and that has not happened yet.

This is discussed in an excellent article by Neil MoselyIs the university education model forever changed?. Teachers can experiment and redesign their courses to a certain extent but there are many constraints against radical change. Changing a course syllabus can take months if not years. Teachers are allotted a set number of lecture hours during which they are expected to lecture. Facilitating collaborative problem-based learning based mostly on asynchronous activities does not fit into the administrative system. Even if the teachers get support and inspiration it's not easy to challenge these principles.

As well as that they didn’t realise that changing the mode of teaching and study needs a change of the way you operate. It’s not simply a case of providing the technologies, some workshops, some inspirational “innovative” teachers...it requires something much more fundamental than that.

The university model is what it is because of the many parameters that make it and define it as a model. If you want to change the model then it’s not simply a case of imploring staff to do something different within the confines of the old model, but rather orchestrating the organisational change necessary to move to a new model.  

This rings true for so many educational technologists who offer inspirational workshops, seminars and consultation to teachers but discover that the uptake is low or the effects marginal beyond the dedicated band of true believers. True the university is much more digital today than before the pandemic but the fundamental principles remain untouched. Hybrid teaching or lecture capture would seem to be typical compromises where we can basically continue as usual but with an optional digital add-on.. Is digital an integrated part of the whole university experience? Are online students equally treated and equally welcome? The hybrid classroom looks promising but is it really breaking any barriers of simply preserving hierarchies?
If you want to change the teaching and study model then you have to change the organisational model that buttresses it. This is hard, and the pandemic hasn’t necessarily helped as it has led to a conceited sense of organisational agility. When thinking about where universities are at due to the pandemic and gauging this against where they might like to be, we would all do well to heed the words of Irene Peter:

“Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed.”
We still have a long way to go.

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