The past two weeks of #FeesMustFall protests have demonstrated how digital networks can be utilized to disrupt higher education here in South Africa. While it may be premature to compare this movement to the Arab Spring, it is quite clear that students, with their data and cell phones, are sufficiently capable to use digital media to mobilise other students, university management and government to pay attention to their demands.
#FeesMustFall has also exposed the different digital capabilities across the Higher Education spectrum. Student’s capacity to make use of digital media to amplify and enable their campaign stand in stark contrast with parliamentarians and higher education execs relative silence within the same medium. Over the last two weeks students, executives and politicians have repeatedly missed opportunities for communication and engagement via web 2.0 technologies and social media. Despite VCs and politicos having access to traditional and new media, communication units and infrastructure, they have not demonstrated that they are able to take advantage of these alternative modalities to connect and engage with students.
If ed techies are to learn and respond to this communication gap between students and executives, then we need recognize this as a digital capability issue, offer leadership and act. Here’s a golden opportunity to promote the use of learning technologies to address many of the any educational issues raised by students. But don’t ask Radio, TV or MOOCS to replicate one size-fits-all, undifferentiated and restricted 20th-century model of higher education in an electronic form. Ed techies need to be part of a conversation envisaging a future where ICT’s are able to offer a flexible and accessible education that can be tailored and customised for each individual.
James Hilton suggests that if we don’t want to miss the opportunity to redefine education for a world in which access to information, networks, and computation is ubiquitous, then we need to do the following (my paraphrase).
- Embrace the duality of ICT. Digital is both a part of the infrastructure and a strategic asset. At present ICT is seen as a part of the infrastructure. This services delivered on this infrastructure are important, but administration and management is not its only function. ICT is also an innovation platform. The two are not competing with each other. They’re complementary roles.
- Allow ICT to play an enabling role. We accept that universities are designed to foster innovation, to create an environment in which people research, share ideas and data and come up with something new. The role that communication technologies, computation, and networks play in enabling this innovation should be used to further the teaching and learning mission of a university.
- Bring back the joy. There was a time when ICT was an enabling force on campus. This additional empowerment brought joy to many academic and student. It would be very easy to turn off the WiFi, restrict device usage and forget the joy associated with the network and become driven by fear. We need to retreat from the fear and reclaim the joy of learning and playing with ICT.
As our interactions between each other, what we are learning and what we are doing become more and more mediated by networks, we have the opportunity to build a global learning laboratory. Higher Education needs to take be invited to be part of this global learning laboratory and combine it with the scholarship of teaching and learning to begin looking for evidence-based practices about what works and what doesn’t work.
ICT can be used to enable an accessible and flexible education. Ed techies need to reclaim this audacious vision and promote a digitally capabilities right across campus, where all are encouraged and enabled to use ICT to enhance and innovative and not only manage and control. If we are going to respond appropriately to #FeesMustFall, then we need to use this opportunity to rethink about our current use of ICT.