9 things to watch out for in 2015

So after an unaccountably excellent attempt at predicting the key news stories in education technology and higher education policy for this year, I feel  compelled to have another stab – and suggest what 2015 may hold. I should note I’ve just spent some time #ConferenceCrashing at the superb SRHE2014 conference, and many of the ideas currently buzzing around my head will have come from conversations I had there.

1. Education policy in politics – I’m not going to win any points by predicting a UK general election next year, or an unusual result that is likely to mark a decisive shift away from the two party politics that have dominated the country since the second world war. Neither will it have escaped many peoples notice that none of the seven significant parties  (eight if you count the Liberal Democrats) contesting seats have a clear policy to address the now widely recognised deficiencies in funding processes, quality assurance processes and legislation that make HE such a spectacular mess at the moment.

What I am predicting is HE policy being a point of clear distinction between parties. Unlike 2010, where everyone waited for the Browne Review, there is space now to generate policy positions that will reveal a lot about what kind of country each party believes we need to be. Access or elitism, internationalism or isolationism, economic engine or radical heart? The expanding network of great UK HE policy blogs (not least Wonkhe.com and Critical Education) will be a huge part of this national debate.

2. Academia against the institution – Battle lines are increasingly being drawn between students, academics, support and ancillary staff on the one hand, and institutional leaders and senior management on the others. Campaigns like #3cosas, #copsoffcampus and the myriad #freeeducation protests have taken the lead in challenging managerialism and the pursuit of cost savings above the welfare of human beings. The heart-breaking story of Professor Stephan Grimm at Imperial, the funding-target driven layoffs at Warwick, the bizarre saga of Professor Thomas Docherty (again at Warwick… seriously what is happening there…) are bellwethers for a wider culture of fear and control that have made working at a UK HE institution a series of compromises and an ever expanding job that eats into your health and your family life.

I’ve heard too many stories of senior institutional managers out of control and out of touch, the saga at Plymouth is as yet the most visible but there is a lot more to come out from institutions of all types. Our union (UCU) has a huge role to play in seeing that light and political heat is focused on this unfortunate tendency, and I think 2015 will be the year when many of these stories come to light. The struggles of academics and support staffs for fair pay and fair conditions are liable to take longer, but with students and (increasingly) public opinion on their side we should see some movement on this too. Expect more strikes, more protests, more hard questions asked of institutions – and hopefully some answers.

3. W(h)ither the MOOC – I’ll come straight out and predict that at least one major platform will either close entirely or move away from offering free and accessible online courses in 2015. (I know Udacity kind of mostly have, but another one) Investors have waited and waited for the disruptive moment that MOOCs promised, and I don’t think they will wait another twelve months without advocating some kind of a sustainable business model.

There is a lot of work to be done around accredited online instruction, and I predict that institutional offers will take up some of the latent demand for low-cost courses that the MOOC experiment has revealed. But these courses will compete on quality and value, rather than price.

4. Teaching quality enhancement metrics – the ongoing HEFCE work on “learning gain” was a surprise to many on announcement this year, and the findings may prove to be some of the most significant policy drivers in teaching quality enhancement next year. “Learning and Teaching” has had a difficult time over the last few years with the rise of the vocabulary of the “Student Experience”, and learning gain looks like a way of stifling the remainder still further with a faux-scientific focus on quantitative measures. Just this morning, Professor Richard Hall issued another of his barnstorming communiques – I demand you all watch the “dashboarding” video and read the text carefully.

Organisations like the SRHE and ALT (both which I intend to join next year, having been hugely impressed with their work this year) may be the two major vehicles of dissent to this agenda, and the combination of the theoretical rigour of the former and the pragmatism and history of the latter will be a powerful combination.

So I predict that: learning gain will inform the key policy arguments about learning technology in 2015, and that we will see a welcome collaboration between SRHE and ALT in response.

5. Independent researchers – (no Martin, I’m not saying “Guerilla Researchers“!) I am an independent researcher, so are most of the people that read these posts and work in these area. Grants and projects are now hard to come by, institutional support for non-income generating research is increasingly limited – and the likely funding decisions linked to the REF will limit this support further.

Like it or not, much of the significant work on education technology and education policy will be done by people in their own time, and with little or no external funding. My prediction here is that independent researchers in a number of non-science fields will begin to organise themselves for mutual support and benefit.

6. Authenticity – One of the most interesting sessions I sneaked into at the SRHE conference used the language of Queer Theory to examine various aspects of academic life. Though the vocabulary and conceptual framework were not familiar to me, the feeling in the room was incredible. We were talking about real lived experiences, not as data points but as artefacts on their own that could not be challenged or reduced to fit a pattern. And it was powerful.

Much of the wider cultural debate about austerity has shifted from measurement to the recounting experiences – government ministers can argue about statistics all day, but when greeted with the actuality of a life lived (or a life lost, all too often) it is more difficult to dismiss. Many of the most powerful arguments made about the condition of academia in 2015 will be not be framed in financial or statistical language. They will be pure, beautiful and true.

7. Students as ______ ? – The “student as consumer/customer” arguments are largely played out in the UK. Clearly students are paying, and have always paid, with their time and attention as well as their money. What we’ve not seen yet is a proper attempt to define the relationship of the student with their institution, with their subject and with their tutors in language that both encompasses and moves beyond the transactional language beloved by our government.

Sometime in 2015 we will see the development of a proper position that sees the consumer aspect of these interactions as one part of a very complex whole. And this will help us design institutions and processes that will support the entirety of the student experience – away from the “customer always knows best” reductions of the way the NSS has been implemented.

8. Uncapturing the lecture – It seems that lecture capture is capturing everything! Coupled with the increasing prevalence of the mandated deposit to the VLE, it seems we have reduced the lecture to an artefact rather than celebrating it as a performance. Journalists and dubious consultants line up to describe the lecture as dead, deficient or just plain dull. And this language is parroted and amplified by those looking to sell the content that is intended to replace it.

In musical terms, we can see the required .ppt as the score, the capture as a recording. But the live, interactive and responsive experience of the lecture (and lecture-style teaching techniques, just to be pedagogically neutral here) is of far greater value than any of the ways we have of capturing it. I predict a resurgence of the lecture – as outreach, as destination and as the cornerstone of the higher education experience.

9.  Collaborative tools – I’ve struggled to find an actual education technology this year, because so much of edtech this year has been a glossy restatement of Taylorism and Skinnerism – a retreat to the very worst of instrumental education (or “skills delivery” to use the argot of the times).

But the things I do see that I like are the tools that enable distributed collaboration. Ward Cunningham’s  Smallest Federated Wiki (popularised in my PLE by the ever-amazing Mike Caulfield ) is one such example – a very different one that I perhaps understand a little more is Known. As John Willbank’s superb keynote address at OpenEd14 impressed upon me the need for tools for collaborative research, so Kin Lane‘s advocacy opened my eyes to the possibilities and the concepts embodied by GitHub (cue Pat Lockley eyeroll as he’s been banging on about this to me for years).

So in 2015 the technologies that will impress us most will be collaboration tools of various purposes, returning perhaps to Tim Berniers-Lee’s original conceptualisation of a web that is readable, writeable and editable.

24 thoughts on “9 things to watch out for in 2015”

  1. Wandered over here expecting to scoff, but I can’t argue with any of it. It’s an almost hopeful set of predictions. You’ve cheered me up.

    Was there deliberate avoidance of the word ‘flipped’ in relation to number 8?

    1. F***ing the classroom is not a concept I am comfortable with.

      Glad that you’ve found these hopeful, concerned (a little) that you find them inarguable. Argue, dammit!

  2. Hi David

    Another nice round up. Maybe I’m just feeling uber cynical today but I don’t share your enthusiasm for a great political shake up or a raft of new policies for HE. Attention is always focused on school level education at general elections . . . I don’t think the politicians care that much about HE. I do have a horrible feeling that after the election Jisc may well “do a BECTA” and that will be HE sorted. Here in Scotland the Enhancement themes are a key driver, so student engagement is at the top of our lists. I’m glad you think ALT will be more important next year, as new Trustee of the organisation that is good to hear, and we are very keen to continue to represent the sector.

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  5. Nice roundup, and particularly helpful for those of us here in the US trying to get a better handle on what’s going on in the UK.

    I’m very interested in your point about the lecture. I spent some time recently at a college that has the luxury of an 8:1 student/teacher ratio. The thing is, they still lecture there. Quite a bit, actually, in some classes and disciplines. But the lecture performance that one gives to an 8-person person class, where it can provoke class conversation, is quite different than the lecture one would give in a 50- or 500- or 5,000-person class. As one professor there put it to me, the class is always a seminar, but there is a spectrum regarding how teacher-directed any particular class conversation is.

    It is possible—although I’m not predicting it, necessarily—that we will make some progress developing cultural consciousness of this spectrum as a result of the class flipping craze. If the point of flipping is to move classes (especially larger ones) toward having more quality discussion and interaction time, then it follows that sooner or later people will start to pay attention to the ways in which recorded lectures and other curricular objects do or do not facilitate that end. This is also the point at which we discover the degree to which adaptive learning and similar technologies have real and lasting educational value. Does their use in pre-class preparation lead to deeper, more educationally productive, and more engaged class conversations or not? Once we start asking that question, then we also start paying attention to different design characteristics than are typically talked about today, at least in the mainstream circles and the education-focused press.

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