22 ONLINE 25 A, Teaching and Learning Aims in Higher Education in Current Times
MeetingID: 815 3790 5794 Code: 6qUAfk
After moving online as an emergency solution in 2020 and 2021, many higher education institutions are designing their blended- learning policy. At the same time, the European Commission is elaborating a policy framework that aligns the concept of ‘European universities’ with this type of policy. That is, the articulation of face-to-face with on-line teaching is an increasingly relevant issue in the agenda of decision-makers at the levels of the EU, national and sub-national governments, and higher education institutions themselves. This paper will attempt to spell out some clues of this ongoing social change through the lens of policy studies and research on blended learning.
To start with, higher education has been navigating the social transformations associated with the knowledge societies for the last decades. These not only have to do with an increasing use of the internet and digital technologies to reach a growing intake of students throughout the world, but also with closer and more interactive connections with business and civil society, as well as with spreading ideologies and imaginaries inspired on neoliberalism, new public management and technological innovation (Calderón, 2018).
More recently, the coronavirus outbreak altered the routines of higher education institutions by means of lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions. Remote teaching and learning became an emergency solution once most students had to take their courses from home. Since neither the professors, nor the institutions, nor students themselves were ready for such a sudden movement, many problems erupted in varied and complex ways. However, some research suggests that the new normality has also favoured the completion rates of courses and stimulated intensive exploration of pedagogic innovation (Dhawan, 2020), which are the outcomes of unprecedented forms of social interaction between institutional leaders and teachers (Bruggeman et al, 2021) as well as between teachers and students (Chiu, 2021).
The paper will analyse the emerging organisational and policy arrangements through the lens of policy studies, particularly the literature on the constitution of universities as assemblages of heterogeneous components (Bacevic, 2018). The mission, the function and the interaction of these institutions with their environment seem to structure quite diverse patterns across the world (McCowan, 2016). The outcomes are normally variable arrangements in which bureacracies and markets intermingle with very active networks (Hoffman and Välimaa, 2016).
This literature has noticed that intricate assemblages between blended-learning policies, the main processes of higher education and institutional missions are in the making. Simultaneously, it has documented the influence of variegated modes of governance such as markets, bureaucracies and networks.
Thus, we ask three research questions on blended-learning policies. Firstly, to what extent have a sample of European universities aligned their strategies regarding blended learning with their institutional approach to teaching, learning and guiding students? Secondly, in which ways do these universities construe the links between blended learning and their institutional mission? Finally, to what extent did academic authorities, private companies and expert networks lead these universities to adopt a variety of digital tools for teaching purposes?
We are working with a sample of six universities based in five European countries, namely: France, Norway, Poland, Portugal and Spain. It is an outcome of an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership that looks at the capacity of blended learning to foster higher education students’ autonomy (URL https://blearn-autonomy.eu/). The consortium gathers the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB, Spain), the Catholic University of Lyon (UCLy, France), the University of Minho (UMINHO, Portugal), the University of Stavanger (UiS, Norway), the University of Vic- Univ. of Central Catalonia (Uvic-UCC, Spain) and the University of Warsaw (Poland).
The sample includes two Southern, one Central, one Central Eastern and one Nordic country. While many institutions are standard public universities in their respective countries, UCLy and Uvic-UCC depend on private foundations that nevertheless work in close collaboration with public authorities. Although the differ in the number of students, all of them deliver diplomas in a variety of disciplines. Many also had some previous experience with remote teaching, for instance, UiS delivers professional diplomas across the world, UVic-UCC has developed a distance master’s degree on translation studies, and UCLy teaches theology online. The project is carrying out a series of activities in the fields of research and teacher continuous training. As far as research is concerned, it is studying how teachers and students give and receive academic feedback in both face-to-face and online environments. By means of a questionnaire, a sample of interviews with students, and teachers’ reflective reports, the project expects to spell out commonalities but also national and institutional particularities of the academic cultures whereby these social actors engage in interaction and construe collective meanings of teaching and studying in certain institutions. At the same time, the research activities also foresee interviewing institutional leaders and academic staff in different faculties in the six universities. So far, we have already conducted about ten interviews with the institutional leaders of four of the six universities. We plan to continue this fieldwork with the remaining ones during spring. Additionally, we will interview the academic staff of two faculties (or schools) in each university, mostly the faculties specialised in business studies and teaching foreign languages. We expect to gather about 40-45 interviews at the time of ECER 2022. Although the interviews with top officers will be conducted in English, in many other ones the interviewees will respond in Catalan, French, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. So, we will code the transcripts collectively in order to agree on the criteria and detect the variable connotations of the same terms in each language. We are experimenting with the CATMA software, which we will probably use for the whole analysis.
Our initial findings suggest that the spread of videoconferencing software in 2020 was not an episodic reaction. At this point, we can at least state that many institutional leaders are currently thinking how to integrate asynchronous learning management systems with synchronous videocalls in order to configure meaningful digital environments for teachers and students. The ongoing deliberation navigates through a number of dilemmas. Articulating face-to-face with on-line teaching and learning is the main objective, which also provokes deep worries. Issues regarding digital literacy, choice of software, pedagogic innovation, need of support, variable arrangements of top-down and bottom-up decision-making, teachers’ favourable but also reluctant attitudes, students’ expectations on assessment and feedback, and many other aspects are poignant everywhere. Additionally, not only teaching and learning practices are changing with the use of digital facilities, but the challenges derived from the COVID-19 emergency have also induced many universiteis to engage in co-learning between managers, teachers and students. According to our initial evidence, some universities are experimenting with long- term negotiations where administrators, teachers, students and IT staff are constructing professional learning communities. A variety of management styles seem to be emerging, including imposing (top-down), emancipating (mediating), transformative (bottom-up) approaches. On these grounds, we expect that spelling out the clues of these institutional policies in a variety of universities and European countries will be a worthwhile endeavour. Our intuition is that neither researchers nor decision-makers will be capable to evaluate this new field of policy making without a conversation based on evidence that documents the actual undergoing changes of higher education institutions.
Bacevic, J. (2018). With or without U? Assemblage theory and (de)territorialising the university. Globalisation, Societies and Education. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1080/14767724.2018.1498323 Bruggeman, B., Tondeur, J., Struyven, K., Pynoo, B., Garone, A., & Vanslambrouck, S. (2021). Experts speaking: Crucial teacher attributes for implementing blended learning in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 48, 100772. Calderon, A. (2018). The geopolitics of higher education: pursuing success in an uncertain global environment. In H. C. and R. K. Brendan Cantwell (Ed.), Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education (pp. 187–208). Cheltenham (UK): Edward Elgar Publishing. Chiu, T. K. (2021). Digital support for student engagement in blended learning based on self-determination theory.Computers in Human Behavior, 106909. Dhawan, S. (2020). Online learning: A panacea in the time of COVID-19 crisis.Journal of Educational Technology Systems,49(1), 5-22. Hoffman, D.M.; Välimaa, J. (2016). Re-becoming universities? Higher Education Institutions in Networked Knowledge Societies. New York and London: Springer. McCowan, T. (2016). Universities and the post-2015 development agenda: an analytical framework. Higher Education, 72, 505–523.
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