Unbundling, onboarding, digital futures – where is the love and struggle?

picture of people boarding a plane

Photo by Chris Brignola on Unsplash

Last week I was asked to pull together a short 5 minute provocation around the future for digital learning for departmental away day.  Luckily for me Sian Bayne and Michael Gallagher from the Centre for Digital  Education at the University of Edinburgh had just published two short, but very useful (openly licensed) papers: Future Trends: Education and Socitey,  Future Trends: Science and Technology. You can access them both here.

These were the perfect reference point for me and summarised many of the things I had in one of the many lists in my head.  A couple of points were really relevant for discussion with my colleagues (as we are a department of Academic Quality and Development) –  unbundling and new degree models (e.g. graduate level apprenticeships)  and their discussion about new forms of value (for example blockchain) and the potential to use more distributed networks to store, accredit, pay and share qualifications.  This brings with it the potential for the accreditation of awards to be “opened up” aka commercialised.

The arrival of graduate level apprenticeships  (the most current form of unbundling here in the Scotland )  and the potential revenue they bring, are a very direct concern for my colleagues from both the academic quality and development point of view. We need to maintain the former and ensure that the latter is appropriate and that we are not just doing a bit of enhanced traditional day release.  With all universities (particularly in Scotland where we don’t have the same fee revenue from undergraduate fees as other parts of the UK), chasing the money can all too often be the driving force, and the key “business focus”. The reality of the business of learning and teaching doesn’t get quite as much attention.  The  neoliberalisation of education marches on apace, as Michael and Sian point out

Some critics foreground its decentralising, individuating reduction of all learning to exchangeable value, aligning it with the ideologies of ‘neoliberalism, libertarianism, and global capitalism’ (Watters 2016). Others challenge its vast carbon footprint (Holthaus 2017), and some see it merely as a solution in search of a problem.

On Friday I also spotted via twitter that Anglia Ruskin have appointed a marketing agency to “define and deliver the future experience for the university’s students and staff.”

The agency will:

partner with Anglia Ruskin to help shape its digital strategy, as well as providing long term support with service design and modern digital development capability. Alongside working with ARU to clarify their longer-term ambition for the target customer experience, Friday are expected to start immediate work on two key projects; a website redesign and re-platforming, as well as re-imagining the applicant and onboarding experience.

A representative from the  agency is quoted as saying:

Good digital, done well, has the potential to improve lives. Education, and digital’s ability to support it, is something we’re extremely passionate about. So Anglia Ruskin, with their ambition for digital to materially improve the student experience, is an ideal partner for us – we’re thrilled to be working with them.

“good digital”- now there is a phrase and half, a real wtf statement if ever I saw one. Digital is particularly on my mind just now, as I am currently writing and researching about “the digital” in relation to universities for a book I’m writing with Keith Smyth and Bill Johnston – our deadline is the end of the month so I probably shouldn’t be writing this post!

I see digital as a complex code word, one that has many different meanings, and an equal number of assumptions. It is equally powerful and meaningless , as I think the quote above exemplifies.  As our OER18 presentation highlighted we are looking particularly at critical pedagogy as a theoretical basis for our work and see human understanding and contextualistaion of “the digital” as being key.  It is only through people really understanding and challenging socio-political contexts that the potential of digital technologies can be utilised.  This is completely contrary to neoliberal trends of unbundling and onboarding the student experience.

We need to fight back from the oppression of phrases (and assumptions) such as “good digital”. Unsurprisingly I have been reading the work of Antonia Darder of late, and in particular her article Teaching as an Act of Love: Reflections on Paulo Freire and his contributions to our lives and work (2011).

Isn’t it time that we all demanded less “good digital” and more love and struggle? I leave you with some words of wisdom and reflection from Antonia.

If there was anything that Freire consistently sought to defend, it was the freshness, spontaneity, and presence embodied in what he called an “armed loved—the fighting love of those convinced of the right and the duty to fight, to denounce, and to announce” (Freire, 1998, p. 42). A love that could be lively, forceful, and inspiring, while at the same time, critical, challenging, and insistent. As such, Freire’s brand of love stood in direct opposition to the insipid “generosity” of teachers or administrators who would blindly adhere to a system of schooling that fundamentally transgresses every principle of cul- tural and economic democracy  . .   I want to write about political and radicalized form of love that is never about absolute consensus, or unconditional acceptance, or unceasing words of sweetness, or endless streams of hugs and kisses. Instead it is a love that I experienced as unconstricted, rooted in a committed willingness to struggle persistently with purpose in our life . ..

4 comments

  1. Thanks for this – a pertinent distraction as I am sitting here trying to write about the problem that we keep collapsing open/closed into digital/analogue, future/past, right/wrong. And of course I do a digital job and I don’t disagree that digital should be done well but it takes a lot more than a website or even a mobile app to ‘define and deliver the future experience’, at least I hope it does.

    • thanks Leo. I have a real problem with digital been seeing as universally better than what we have without any real justification as the quote from the pr as release from Anglia Ruskin exemplifies.

  2. I concur. We (UOB) have similar arrangements to those you decribe at Anglia Ruskin an I and the majority of my colleagues share your concerns. The metric of “good digital” espoused is more recruitment , not experience , not quality and relevance. I’m not sure where this is taking us but fear it is not a good place !

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