The university of the future part 3: Hub of a learning network

In an age where learners can download all of the content they want for free, there is limited value in continuing to feed them a pre-digested, pre-prepared curriculum. The institutions that will thrive in our age of digital hyper-connectivity will do so because of the quality and depth of the learning experiences they offer, the relationships that they foster, the networks that they broker, and their bespoke content generation (research).

This is the long-awaited third installment of my ‘university of the future’ series, all of which commence with a highly self-indugent and fairly provocative quote from yours truly :-)

In the first two installments last year, I talked about the importance of interdisciplinary experiential learning, and of building a strong community of learners, teachers and industry/community. In this third installment, I’m going to make some remarks about the future university as hub of a global learning and practice network.

Generally speaking, universities are extremely ineffective at social networking. They focus on short-term, transactional and contractual relationships with students and research / commercial partners. They lock down their infrastructure and put their learning resources behind firewalls (cf MOOCS, but these have other problems I’ll get into in another post). They don’t understand that the most productive relationships, even in the online realm and involving payment, are long term, based on trust, and involve sharing and reciprocity.

In the conventional university the pedagogy is closed and walled, with a curriculum that is more or less one-size-fits-all-learners, and based on a distributive (transmissive) system. By contrast, people like George Siemens and Stephen Downes talk about connectivism and networked pedagogy — the idea that learning can be open and connected, characterised by self-regulation, co-creation and investigation. In networked pedagogy, the network is diverse. The learning is adaptive, and adapted, to individual and network needs.

I think that universities are changing.They are employing industry engagement personnel, albeit still mostly for research development, and purchasing CRM systems. They are trying to improve their responsiveness to industry skill needs. However, they still aren’t as responsive as they need to be, in part because they are still addicted to curriculum content (as are the professional accrediting bodies). Our curriculum is quite static. It takes a long time and usually many committees to renew.

I have a vision of the future university as hub of a learning network, encompassing industry, professionals, users and researchers. The university becomes a conduit and knowledge integrator for the latest university and industry generated research and practice trends that students and professionals alike can access as needed. Learners can forage within the network for task-relevant knowledge and information, and apply it to their practice, with the support and facilitation of teachers. They can make new contacts and find new collaborators.

I think I’m actually talking about a ‘meta’university’ model here — overarching, accessible, global, and community-constructed frameworks of materials and platforms. The universities with the best pipelines to industry and academic research, practice and people, that can supply these to learners in useful ways, will be the most successful.

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Introducing ‘Graduate Employability 2.0’

Did you know that Linkedin now has 300 million users, which is about 1 in 3 professionals worldwide? And that 35% of those users log in every day?

And did you know that about 60% of jobs are estimated to be obtained through ‘who you know’ rather than direct application? Did you also know that between 80 and 90% of university graduates only apply for jobs using direct application methods?

70% of learning in the workplace happens informally, much of it problem-based and self-directed, and about 90% of that involves social interaction – either face to face, online or both.

One recent study found that 86% of professionals use online social networks for professional purposes in the workplace. What do they use them for? networking within and outside the organisation, research and learning, and sharing resources and project information with colleagues.

Graduate Employability 2.0 is about all of these things. It explores a different way of engaging with learning and teaching for life and career post-university. Graduate Employability 1.0 was about skills, knowledge, and attributes that individual students can learn in order to be able to obtain or create work and perform well in work situations. In the Graduate Employability 2.0 era, individual skills, knowledge and attributes are still important, but so are the individual’s professional relationships and networks, and what they do with them. The ‘2.0’ signifies the central importance of the social, digitally networked world in which we now all live.

My 2015-2016 Australian Office of Learning and Teaching National Senior Teaching Fellowship seeks to identify the best ways to develop students’ capabilities to build and use professional connections, both online and face-to-face, for career development, creativity and problem-solving, and professional learning, all of which are essential to employability in the digital age.

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Career development      

 

 

Professional relationships, networks and social capital are vital to career development:

  • by increasing access to career resources, information about opportunities, and career sponsorship
  • through the individual’s online presence – their personal ‘brand’, ePortfolio, use of social media as an advertising / recruitment screening tool
  • through distributed, networked options for employment generation e.g., Airtasker, Upwork, crowdsourcing resources
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Innovation, creativity and problem solving

Innovation and problem solving thrive on complex collaborative contexts:

  • by fostering new ideas through exposure to new people and new ideas (especially trans-disciplinarity)
  • by ensuring that new ideas are integrated, implemented and brought to fruition through teamwork;
  • by finding opportunities for enterprise – for example, new markets, collaborators and resources
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Professional learning

Social connections facilitate the reciprocal transmission of skills and knowledge for professional learning:

  • through communities of practice and informal social learning
  • digitally through distributed learning networks (social media, crowdsourced learning e.g., wikipedia).

What does the fellowship involve?

Right now I am seeking cases of teaching practice, particularly in humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) disciplines, that engage with these kinds of learning, and also some examples of graduates who are making the most of their social connections for professional purposes. Chosen cases will be included in a graduate employability toolkit and promoted nationally. If you are interested in being a case study, please get in touch.

I will be surveying all of the universities in Australia to find out to what extent and how they are engaging with teaching for the development of students’ professional connections.

Later on this year I’ll be working with four universities to build graduate employability 2.0 capabilities into their undergraduate programs. We’ll be doing some experiments and seeing which are the best ways to build professional networks into the curriculum

There will be a national symposium hosted at QUT, and I will launch an online community of practice for sharing, discussion and updates very shortly. Watch this space for details!

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