Despite the increasing ubiquity of the term ‘digital university’, the concept remains diffuse. Perceptions tend to slant in predictable directions: technological determinism; association within a particular account of education – open online learning for example; and concentrate on particular accounts of value and quality, or recruitment and market share in a globalised Higher Education sector. Within this context, we have noted a tendency to locate the digital in current institutional structures and processes within the university, instead of asking how the ‘digital’ challenges those established structures and processes, and how in turn they can be reconfigured or reimagined to extend and democratise Higher Education.
This presentation provides an overview of a critique of the current state of the digital university construct which proposes a more holistic, integrated account emerging from our exploration of theory and research. Central to our narrative are questions concerning the extent to which digital technologies and practices can allow us to rethink where the university, our curricula, and the educational opportunities the university provides are located and co-located, and how they can extend higher education as a public good. This presentation seeks to raise the debate about the role of the university in fostering the learning environments, skills and capabilities needed for critical engagement, active participation, reflection and societal betterment in the digital age.
We contend that there is a need to arrive at a richer, more integrated understanding of what the digital university is, and what it could be, by encompassing the human, pedagogic, strategic and technological dimensions that interweave in defining the nature and potential of digital practice and outreach in higher education.
Our exploration of the above is grounded and framed inside a critical pedagogy (Freire, 1974, Giroux, 2000) perspective, within which we seek to challenge currently dominant beliefs and practices. In doing so we draw upon both our own collective practice as educational developers, which is rooted in social constructivist theory, and 4 years of development work, consultation and debate on the concept of the digital university which we have undertaken within the UK HE sector (Johnston et al, 2019).
We connect our narrative, and the examples we draw up, to established critical perspectives and arguments concerning the nature of the university and higher education, and how they can be reimagined in ways that challenge the neoliberalism of the academy (Bailey and Freedman, 2011; Holmwood, 2011; Arvanitakis and Hornsby, 2016).
Specifically, we present two models – one a Revised Conceptual Matrix for the Digital University, the second relating to the concept of the Digitally Distributed Curriculum – which we hope will provide critical lenses to scaffold and support further critical research and reflection, and inform more critically grounded digital education practices going forward.
Arvanitakis, J., Hornsby, D. (Eds.) (2016). Universities, the Citizen Scholar and the Future of Higher Education. Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan.
Bailey, M., Freedman, D. (Eds) (2011). The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance. Pluto Press.
Freire, P. (1974). Education for Critical Consciousness. Bloomsbury Academic.
Giroux, H.A. (2000). Public Pedagogy and the Responsibility of Intellectuals: Youth, Littleton, and the loss of innocence. JAC, 20(1), pp. 9-42.
Holmwood, J. (2011). A Manifesto for the Public University. Bloomsbury Academic.
Johnston, B., MacNeill, S. and Smyth, K. (2019). Conceptualising the Digital University: The intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice. Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan.