I’ve been wanting to contribute to The Conversation: Africa for ages and have only recently been able to put together a few pitches for the articles I’d like to write. If you’ve never heard of The Conversation, it’s a wonderful attempt to get academics to write thought-pieces that are more accessible to the general public and those outside the field. All content is also published under Creative Commons licenses, meaning that what you write is freely accessible and can be distributed in any number of ways. Here are a few points that resonate with me from The Conversation: 10 ways we are different page:
- In a world of misinformation and spin, The Conversation contributes to healthy democratic discourse by injecting facts and evidence into the public arena.
- All our content is sourced from university scholars and researchers who have deep expertise in their subject.
- We are transparent, with every author disclosing their expertise, funding, and conflicts of interest.
- All our content is free to read and republish under Creative Commons while the rest of the media charges for re-publication.
- We believe in the free flow of information. We disseminate our content to more than 12,000 sites worldwide. That gives our content a global reach of 23 million readers a month, and growing.
- To avoid commercial conflict we don’t carry advertising pop-ups or annoying autoplay.
- We are a not-for-profit organisation serving the public good.
It’s a bit more formal than a blog because you have to submit ideas to the editors who then review the pitch and provide you with guidelines and deadlines. I’ve drafted the outlines for three articles on the use of technology in higher education and sent the following three pitches to the editors.
Pitch 1: The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed
It has become a truism that when we talk about the integration of technology in the context of teaching and learning in higher education, we must avoid making assumptions about the level of physical and epistemological access that our students have when it comes to using that technology. However, while I acknowledge this important point, I do worry that too much emphasis on it leads to a conservative approach to the introduction of technology into the classroom, and that this conservatism will lead to our students having a significant disadvantage upon graduation. The world is not going to wait for our students to catch up and the deep integration of technology into every other aspect of life continues unabated, at an accelerating rate of change. So, how do we prepare our students for a world that we cannot predict? Is it by adding more content to the curriculum? Or is it by teaching students how to adapt to change, through the aggressive incorporation of digital technologies into teaching and learning practices through intentional pedagogical design?
Pitch 2: Dominant design and the future of technology in higher education
The power of technology in education is in it’s potential to bring about transformative forms of teaching and learning that fundamentally change the people who use it. And yet, when we look at how technology is used in higher education we see it predominantly used to encourage ways of thinking and learning that reinforce outdated pedagogical practices. Dominant design is a management concept suggesting that, once a design has taken hold and become dominant, future innovation in the field is directed towards improving that design rather than challenging it and creating new paradigms. This is exactly what we see when we consider the Learning Management System (LMS) which, for many, represents the cutting edge of technology-integrated teaching and learning. And yet, what does the LMS offer besides a cost-effective content-distribution system and an efficient way to manage students? In order to truly use technology to bring about transformative approaches to teaching and learning, we must establish the following beyond any doubt:
- The technology does matter; but pedagogy matters more.
- The integration of technology should solve more problems than it introduces.
- The technology must be accompanied with a concomitant change in practice.
Pitch 3: Why an emphasis on content in higher education is untenable in a digital society
There are important pedagogical reasons for why a focus on “covering the content” is flawed when it comes to higher education, not least of which is the idea that a higher education must be about more than the accumulation of facts and the ability to recall information on cue. The value of a university is not that its academics control access to specialised knowledge but that there is a need in society for spaces that encourage a deep and critical investigation into the nature of the world. By focusing purely on discipline-specific content, we do nothing to advance the academic project and instead reduce our roles as academics to filters, making decisions about what content is important to cover. But what happens when machines are able to outperform us as content filters? What happens when we can “outsource” information recall to our constantly connected devices? What do we do when our students are able to challenge us on every point we make? Do we retreat into the relative safety of an enforced disconnected classroom, or do we embrace the use of connected devices and work collaboratively with students to create deeper and more critical inquiries into the world?