Friday, 14 March 2014

The disruption that is to come

Registrarism's blog post Surviving an avalanche - which reminds us of the hype a year ago by IPPR about The Massive Changes To Come in higher education - got me thinking about what the real disruptive digital approach to higher education will be.  

MOOCs have a lot written about them, and there's serious money behind them, but that says that they are a business proposition, not an educational one.  I think the disruptive technology is on us already, and it's not happening to universities, its happening in universities.  It's the use of social media by academic staff to interact with students.

My Twitter feed includes a couple of lecturers who tweet well, and whose account is clearly part of their day-to-day engagement with their students.  There's the expected ups and downs.  Some great conversations which show how Twitter in the classroom can qualitatively change students' engagement with the topic and the class.  And some exchanges where the immediacy of Twitter enables a student to express their frustration very directly to the teacher.  It's obvious that the quality of how the lecturer responds to the latter - quickly, openly - contributes a lot to the positive uses that Twitter can have.  It enables a lecturer to be visibly personally authentic, and who couldn't like that?

This is the revolution, I think.  As the use of social media becomes part of the everyday fabric of life, those in universities who don't use it, or who don't use it well, may find themselves less noticed, and less able to make a difference.  And the qualities for personal authenticity in social media are quite different to some of the norms of university life: social media isn't hierarchical, and it isn't always serious.  

If this is the disruptive technology for higher education, then it won't be an avalanche that buries us, it will be a slow rise in sea level.  Like the good citizens of High Brazil in Terry Jones' Erik the Viking, we may be up to our waists before we notice that things have changed for ever.

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