Position Paper on Digital Technology and Education

Universities Challenged: The Impact of Digital Technology on Teaching and Learning.

Third in the series of Position Papers published by the U21 Educational Innovation Cluster.  

Executive Summary

At the present time, there is much talk about the potential of digital technologies to bring about significant changes in models of teaching and learning in universities.  Most notably, the advent of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) has aroused much interest, with influential commentators suggesting that this represents a ‘killer app’ or ‘game-changer’.

Technological innovations should be understood as only one part of broader moves to ‘reimagine’ the role of universities in a fast-changing economic and cultural environment.  Examples of influential accounts of these changes are found in two recent reports:

  1. Bokor, Justin (2012).  Ernst and Young Australia. University of the Future.
  2. Barber, Michael & Donnelly, Katelyn & Rizvi, Saad (11 March 2013).  Institute for Public Policy Research. An Avalanche is Coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead.

Both of these reports assume that the ‘traditional’ public university, which emerged in the aftermath of World War II, is now in terminal decline, and are concerned with ‘what comes next’.  In both accounts, technology plays a potentially disruptive role because it undermines the monopoly on knowledge and content traditionally held by universities.

Whilst digital technology is a central feature of university life, the role that it plays is contested.  For some commentators, digital technology has the potential to contribute to solving the long-term ‘cost-crisis’ faced by universities in providing teaching courses.  For others, digital technologies are transforming the everyday life of consumers, academics and students, and are ushering in new sets of relations based on sharing, collaboration and creativity.  Still others express concern about the ways in which innovations that have their origins in commercial environments, are set to undermine the slower, more deliberative processes of learning in universities.

The important point is that technological developments are unavoidably linked to broader social imaginaries: our ideas about the role of technology in education are shaped and reshaped by our ideas about what constitutes the ‘good society’.  In this case, it is incumbent on university administrators and academics to openly discuss the opportunities and costs of these developments. 

Read the full report by downloading the paper below.