Getting The Pearls From The Digital Oyster - Breaking Through The Shell Of The Status Quo!

By Debbie Holley, Professor of Learning Innovation, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bournemouth University

Debbie Holley, Professor of Learning Innovation, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bournemouth University

Educational innovation abounds already, with:

• Higher Education Institutions developing their virtual learning environments (VLE) to support student learning through data flows;

• personalising learning by showing how students compare with their peers;

• pointing to an amazing array of resources globally online;

• automating feedback to learners, showing them how to improve their individual trajectories.

But are we yet on a genuine pathway to globally personalised learning?

Although individuals and funded research collaborations are producing incredible educational innovations, are our institutions likewise producing the amazing pathways for our knowledge seekers and co-creators of the future? Or are they are still:

• tied tightly into governmental polices about quality and procedure;

• accessing loans from commercial lenders only lending to those attending ‘programmes’ that are quality assured, quantified, and linked to the established and well-trodden time based routes to graduation from the previous century?

As the affordances of virtual reality, extended realities and augmented realities become mainstream, how can these transform our learners and their learning journeys?

The requirements to scale up innovation is driving many 21st century conversations on economic progress, and the possibilities are reflected nowhere more than in our educational institutions. We have large-scale tech giants like Microsoft and Google telling us respectively about how the classroom of 2030 will operate, and how to ensure digital wellbeing for all by taking a free online course. We know, of course, that our digital signatures are followed, processed and fed into complex algorithms that ensure our social media feeds are populated with a plethora of goods and services that we had no idea we wanted! The essential skill as an educator navigating the digital world is to support our learners in becoming both critical and discerning. ‘Future of work’ reports highlight criticality as an essential for jobs of the future, those, which have not yet been imagined.

Already, Shahida, a medical student, takes advantage of all the formative online activities her tutors have developed for her, linking through to online reading lists and using YouTube to search out key speakers in her field of heart surgery. She can try out the surgical tools via the University VR headsets, and even ‘feel’ what it would be like doing the first incision of a surgical procedure. She can link into grad classes at Harvard and even contribute to monthly twitter discussions with medical experts in her field.

In the case of Kevin, an arts student, he follows key artists he admires online, and is developing an extensive portfolio of his own sketches and artwork. His course has sessions to assist him with setting up his own website, developing a business plan and networking with suitable funders to help him become an effective small business in his own right.

But how will our digitally-savvy graduates of the future fare? What are the future pathways that will ensure success for those yet to set out on their academic studies? Education 4.0 is already conceptualised as a set of choices through a lifelong learning pathway whereby learners have ownership and control of their studies, as they weave seamlessly between education and employment.

"Our commitment to not leave any learner behind in the brave new world of education 4.0 demands unified action to open borders and boundaries for learners"

Can Shahida be with her expert heart surgeon on ward rounds, linking in through eye-tracking software and ‘seeing’ the patient through the lens of the expert? Can she attend the operations virtually and follow patient progress from anywhere in the world? Can Kevin attend all the shows and collections in his sphere and undertake his networking as a hologram? The barriers are not technological, the students lacking vision, or faculty staff lacking imagination. Genuine change is hampered by the agenda of commodification, which Noble so eloquently describes in his work on Digital Diploma Mills.

To embrace authentic personalised learning, learners need to navigate their pathways through our own institutions, and also through the institutions of others. Far greater integration with industry calls for different funding models; and experts sharing their knowledge and expertise with learners in different mediums.

The challenge for forward thinking Higher Education Institutions and those who fund and shape the regulatory environment within which they operate is how to enable the knowledge transfer and engagement, and how to enable sharing, mentoring and coaching in different spheres of the multi-faceted life of HE students. Universities need different kinds of visionary thinkers and leaders to:

• Remove barriers to scaling technology;

• share world class knowledge;

• enable seamless transition in, out and through workplaces, matched by flows in, through and out of higher education;

We need to place critical pedagogies firmly at the centre of our aspirations for learning futures. Our commitment to not leave any learner behind in the brave new world of education 4.0 demands unified action to open borders and boundaries for learners. To achieve this we need exceptional strategic, technical and pedagogic leadership to enable faculty to become true agents of change in global transformation.

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