With the UK government having lifted restrictions and much of the population vaccinated, now is a valuable time to reflect on what we have experienced and learned. While it’s crucial that we critically evaluate the experience, we must do so with a level of awareness and sensitivity. Discussions of the pandemic as a “golden age for [insert business process here]” are entirely tone-deaf and not an honest reflection of the circumstances. To be clear, this article is not about trying to find the silver lining in a pandemic.
Global macroeconomic, technological and social developments are driving an increased need for flexible learning. Machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics; the changing world of work; longer lives and more physically and mentally active pensioners; marginalised communities and the rise of populism; and the disruption of the global financial crises, the climate emergency and pandemics are combining to make lifelong learning essential.
I am pretty confident that the most frequently “deleted unread” all-staff emails at the moment are those titled “Well-being”. For the past two years, across all sectors, including higher education, these messages have proliferated like the coronavirus itself. Advice includes reminders to eat broccoli, to exercise regularly and to listen to birdsong. The latest epistle I received delivered the shattering news that “not being physically active can increase our risk of developing heart or circulatory diseases and diabetes”.
How can we move students from critically analysing a particular contemporary challenge – for example, urban inequality and unsustainability – to also imagining responses to it? In my new book, Creative Universities: Reimagining Education for Global Challenges and Alternative Futures, I show how introducing students to design thinking and methods, including scenarios, is one way to combine critique and creativity in university classrooms.
Research often lacks full transparency and reproducibility, and poor research practices are increasingly picked up by the public, which is undermining trust in academia. Open research is research conducted with full transparency, in its design, methods and communication of outputs. Research practices that are “open” improve research quality and integrity, reuse by others and value for money. They increase public trust in research and protect against fraud.
We all understand the value of collaboration. New experiences and perspectives from colleagues and students help to challenge our ways of thinking, driving us to create and share knowledge in more impactful ways. But collaborating with people outside your university sphere can add equal, and perhaps even more, value.
Public engagement spans activities from inspiring audiences through talks, exhibitions or festivals; consulting through surveys, focus groups or citizen juries; or shared decision-making and working with the public as partners.
The challenge of cultivating student attention has never been more intense than it will be in the coming academic year. Faculty have been battling the distracting power of student devices in the classroom for a decade or two, and during the pandemic the integration of screens into education has intensified. Continuous engagement with our devices over the past 18 months will likely make it more challenging for students to pull their eyes away from their screens and focus on in-person classroom activities.
Many challenges associated with ensuring student engagement and minimising attrition when teaching online are well established in the context of postgraduate education, where remote study has long been a key component. Educational podcasts have been used successfully to address these challenges and improve postgrad student online learning experiences.
Now that many universities plan to continue hybrid and online teaching for their undergraduates, lessons can be learned from what has worked for postgrads, including examining why and how to effectively use podcasts for teaching.
If you are thinking about decolonising your curriculum and wondering where to start, do no not worry, you are in the majority. Many people are supportive of the idea in principle but are not sure what to do.
Over the past 18 months, we’ve all heard about the unique challenges of joining a new organisation during a global pandemic. For me, joining Leeds Trinity University as vice-chancellor in November 2020, I was faced with establishing my own leadership style at a time when staff and students were working remotely, a number of our traditional touchpoints had disappeared and the goalposts seemed to be changing by the day. Here are five of the key lessons I learnt, in the hope that other university colleagues can take something from my experiences.