MSc Technology and Learning: Minds on Fire

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* This is the third post as part of the Technology and Learning series. See the teaching pages for more posts.

There was spluttering in the ivory towers this week.

Dr Alex Hope, Lecturer in Sustainable Development and Project Management at Northumbria University, posted on his blog, Dr Sustainable. It was subsequently picked up by the Guardian’s Higher Education Network.

He wrote:

I suspect that the academic of the future will not be tied to an institution but be a thought leader, communicator and teacher undertaking a range of activities on a freelance/contract basis – and that the world will be a better place for it.

The comments section fizzed with indignation and pomposity but I suspect he hit a nerve.

We’re all heading for portfolio careers – lecturers and learners alike. The old guard may not like it, but a job for life is now a concept as outdated as Betamax and MiniDisc.

Community care

This is nothing new.

Brown, J. S. and Adler R. O. were talking about it in 2008 in their much-quoted article, Minds on Fire. In fact, the section on future careers was the element that particularly resonated with me personally.

I shared many of the views expressed, especially about the need for new models of teaching to prepare learners for the kind of working life they will lead in the near future, and felt enthused by the idea of joining “a community of practice.”

They write:

In this open environment, both the content and the process by which it is created are equally visible, thereby enabling a new kind of critical reading—almost a new form of literacy—that invites the reader to join in the consideration of what information is reliable and/or important.
Sign me up, I say.
Although I do worry about the example of allegedly good practice they cite from David Wiley of Utah State University. whereby students posted material deliberately on public blogs. Okay, it forces them to think about posting more responsibly, but, given I’m dealing with a group of inexperienced journalism students, the words ‘defamation’ and ‘libel’ are ringing in my head like a  repeat-loop car alarm.
Future learning
The section about the “long tail in learning” made sense. The endless choice of online courses, as opposed to the constrained financial-imperitive choices of a physical university, offer a strong case for e-learning.
I did struggle, however, with the concept of “reflective practicums” and how this relates to “closing the loop”. As somebody coming into academia as an industry practitioner, I’m sure Dr Hope will understand my frustration sometimes with too much talking and not enough simply getting on with it.
But my major reservation lies with the concept of Learning 2.0 and the “open participatory learning ecosystem”.
The theory is valid. “We now need a new approach to learning—one characterized by a demand-pull rather than the traditional supply-push mode of building up an inventory of knowledge in students’ heads,” write Brown and Adler.
That’s great. But I still have final-year students who need a room-based tutor to explain to them how to put one foot in front of another, let alone their assignment due in before Christmas. There’s a generational shift needed from early-years education upwards, I suspect, before learners I encounter will be ready for Learning 2.0.
Get ready
But it will come. And I, for one, hope to be ready for it, fitting in my teaching – of course – between the range of other activities that will form my ever-evolving portfolio career.
Dr Hope is probably getting ready for it, too.
At least, he will be once he has finished fielding all those coffee-spluttering comments at the bottom of his blog.
Further reading

Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0

The role and place of the academic is changing – and it’s a good thing

Dr Sustainable

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