Everyday I read different articles, opinions, and claims on how to improve education. Ideas expose dreams for pre-primary to post-graduate levels and yet solutions remain ellusive. Dreams? Surely there needs to be more than intangible dreaming for education. From MOOCs to iPedagogies , all cry out for one’s attention, proclaiming the salvation of learning.
Let me proceed with caution then, for in the midst of paradigm upheavals, of technological changes and most importantly, financial crises which affect education, one needs to inhale calmly and focus on the immediate environment.
To begin reflecting on quality in higher education, one needs first to focus on a specific context. There are higher education institutions where there are barely any facilities, computer labs with old desktops are locked up, classrooms lack what many other places would expect as the bare essentials for teaching – a white board, a projector and wifi, among other expectations. Political entities have the power to decide whether an institution will be open to students or not; educators heed these random orders for it is safer to keep the peace and obey. Yet students, though they dream of better conditions, are content and grateful for the existence of threadbare institutions. Not only are students content, they actually accomplish their goals and achieve academic success.
Dreams too. For though I am fortunate enough to have worked in institutions where there are sufficient desks and chairs for learners, where there are libraries and digital support, I have also worked in the UK, where at one university there was no desktop for the teacher, no projector and no wifi. The immediate solution was to practice a flipped classroom approach, keeping class time for open discussions and feedback. Once, I was even assigned another classroom which turned out to be a broom cupboard. While I considered on the practicalities of the situation, my post-graduation students immediately refused to even peek inside.
It is not, therefore, only in the “developing world” that there is lack of quality in the studying conditions at higher education.
Quality and dreams will have to include the physical aspects of an institution, for they are the first contact learners and educators have with an educational organisation. The facilities will obviously depend on the location’s economic power and political desires of education. Dreams of the location will include spaces for students to work together, spaces where both educators and students can display and share their outside activities such as painting and photography. Spaces of collaboration and spaces for creativity and sharing. Dreams will include a cafeteria and food outlets which serve more than popular junk food and at prices which students can afford.
Mak (2013) highlights how higher ed institutions are places where learners are to be well informed, where they can think critically, analyse social problems and hopefully propose solutions. These elements are part of another set of dreams – those intangible aims which institutions advertise, yet only the most self-motivated learners can aspire to.
If quality at higher ed institutions is going to be taken to heart, then one also needs to bear in mind current trends which lie outside the ivory towers of power:
“Openness — concepts like open content, open data, and open resources, along with notions of transparency and easy access to data and information — is becoming a value.
Massively open online courses are being widely explored as alternatives and supplements to traditional university courses.
The workforce demands skills from college graduates that are more often acquired from informal learning experiences than in universities.
There is an increasing interest in using new sources of data for personalizing the learning experience and for performance measurement.
The role of educators continues to change due to the vast resources that are accessible to students via the Internet.” (Lepi, 2013)
These and other elements are decisive in today’s institutions. Acknowledging that educators are able to be leaders in their field without necessarily possessing traditional academic qualifications, but experience and know-how, accepting that online course add value to an institution and do not take away its value, supporting and investing in new technologies for educators, researchers and students – all these are qualities which are necessary for an institution to practice quality management.
Is there really a will?
Or do those dreams lie in the will of those who believe?
Lepi, K., 2013, 6 Technologies that Will Change Higher Education