Students are more focused than ever on personal and professional development, given the recent dramatic reduction in traditional opportunities such as work experience or volunteering.
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.
Blended learning – a pedagogical approach combining face-to-face teaching with online course delivery – is gaining traction around the world thanks to its cost-effectiveness and flexibility, spurred on by the pandemic. However, the implementation of a successful blended learning programme is often complex, time-consuming and taxing on staff. This is particularly true for universities at the early stages of digital transformations, as they face a shortage of staff skills, connectivity issues and negative attitudes towards technology, among other challenges.
This summer marked a decade since the US entrepreneur and software engineer Marc Andreessen famously predicted that “software is eating the world”.
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.