Out of position and misplaced calls

Mispositions and poor callsWhen #feesmustfall began in 2015, I blogged about digital capabilities and how protesters had used social networks to spread their message. I commented that the events exposed the digital vulnerabilities of various constituents on and off campus.

I also made the suggestion that this was a unique moment to rethink the use of ICT. I made a bad call here. This was not a thoughtful statement. It is time to revisit my “mispositioning”.

#FeesMustFall was about embedded inequality and a need for social justice in higher ed. High fees are limiting the educational aspirations of poor and middle-income students. The principle of equitable access to higher education for those who qualify is a principle that I support. While I might not have agreed with the aggressive tactics that were used, unequal opportunity structures need to be highlighted and addressed. Ed technology was perceived by some protesters as a means to undermine their protests. ICT does offer an alternate route for studies and can be seen as “access for the privileged”. For those who could not afford high data costs, the use of ed-tech re-enforced the lived experiences of inequality. This was not the time to make calls about ICT and the its capacity to enable.

Unilateral decisions to deploy ICT during #Feesmustfall were taken for the “academic project” to continue. The computer network made plan B possible. These were hasty contingency plans. Management saw a need to reduce the potential impact of a ” disaster”. Their intent was to address a predicament that was not of their making. Pinning the label “blended learning” to these contingency plans was a bad idea. This was “contingency learning”. It is a mistake to blur plan B with the innovations – like blended learning – that can go alongside ICT. This was not the time for me to make calls about embracing the duality of information and communications technology.

Learning environments (whether f2f or online) work when the power dynamics are balanced. Teaching and learning in an  “equal” environment is what we strive for. The “joy of learning” is not possible for those caught up in campus crossfire. Stress and fear were a result of unbalanced power dynamics. Students had to complete degrees, pass to earn bursaries, find alternate places to stay. Staff were up all hours, were held on campus against their will, could not keep to other priorities. This was not the time to reclaim the joy of learning.

I believe in an accessible, flexible and equitable education. Technology has a place in overcoming exclusion and should add value to the teaching and learning experience. Academics, teachers, university management, students etc can harness ICT to achieve the above. But this was not the time to proclaim digital solutions. I promoted my “digital capability” message instead of acknowledging the pain points around how “digital does divide”

#Feesmustfall was a moment to acknowledge the critical perspectives that students brought to the use ICT. To unpack assumptions and acknowledge that privilege can be embedded in ICT.  Troubling the use of ed-tech (especially when the key issue is around social justice) would have been far more appropriate. This was an insensitive, jumbled and misplaced post. Sorry about the poor call.