#change11 Change from within

In his yesterday’s presentation on “Transforming teaching and learning through technology management”, Tony Bates asked the following question (slide 23):

“Can universities or colleges change from within, or do we need new institutions for 21st century learning?”

I think, yes, change may come from within, and the salient technological affordances cannot be prescribed by some higher power.

All the most promising technological benefits that I can think of, leverage some new middle way/ in-between, some new gradual possibility, or some new mixture/ combination — that are all well compatible with incremental embracing:

  • For example, micro-content like blogging or wiki contribution, earns its potential from its middle position between long, rare PDF papers, and short rapid F2F conversation pieces;
  • personal knowledge management tools like digital note-taking, or concept mapping, leverage the incredible power of perpetual rearrangeability and gradual revisability;
  • online discussions combine both the affordances of social learning in networks, and of reflective solitude, that were formerly strictly divided between class room and bedsitter;
  • and asynchronous participation is a unique new combination of the rapid immediacy that was characteristic of oral classroom participation, and at the same time, the opportunity of reflective thoroughness that was formerly reserved to literacy via paper mail exchanges needing weeks. The new possible forms can also be seen as a new wide scale of speeds and sizes ranging from synchronous chats, twitter and “like”ing, rapid forum exchanges, to delayed blog reactions, to slow academic citations and debates, or in a sense, like a scale of more or less synchronous and asynchronous, oral and literal characteristics, where everybody picks their own in-between that suits them.

I think many spectaculous, shiny new uses of ubiquituous online access to resources and people, are overrated. (Just as in the reception of connectivism, the social/ external layer seems overrated at the expense of the conceptual and neural layers.)

So the core of possible improvements does not consist of “either – or” choices. Admittedly, the individual insight that such new diversity may be useful, is indeed an either-or decision: To let go the prescriptive mentality that teachers might pre-programme their pupils’ autonomy. But for a start, I would be happy once sufficiently many of the lecturers embraced this change.

One might argue that the necessary changes in the credit point regulations and reward systems have to come from outside. But if I understood it correctly, while the approval of a changed programme proposal is mostly up to an external accreditation agency, the university is still the one who takes the initiative for the proposal. So if they want to drop some presence class hours of content transmission in the lecture theatre, in favor of improved tech-supported methods with the effect of gradually growing scholarly literacies, then the proposal can come from within.

Of course, such changing would nor work in isolation, without the neighboring/ connected institutions acting similarly incrementally, to create a gradual shift on a broad front. If isolated, the “reform” activities would be treated like the “foreign body” in the Immune Reaction that Papert described so plausibly.

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