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TRANSCRIPT: Tales of Teaching Online ep. 58 – Emerging trends in higher education

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Intro: Digital, student-centred, creative, innovation, imagination, initiative, stories that matter. 

Jo Elliot: I’m Jo Elliott, and this is Tales of Teaching Online brought to you by Deakin Learning Futures. Hello everybody and welcome to this episode of Tales of Teaching Online. Today we’re joined by Trish McCluskey, who has recently returned to Deakin as our Director of Digital Learning. Trish, welcome to the podcast and thank you for joining us. 

Trish McCluskey: Hey Jo, it’s good to be back at Deakin. 

Jo: Some of our listeners will know you already from when you worked at Deakin in the past and some of the exciting projects you’ve been involved with at other institutions. But can you start off by telling us a little bit about who you are? Some of those projects that people might have heard about and how you came to be back at Deakin?  

Trish: Okay. It is really good to be back a Deakin especially now that working flexibly has become such a thing. Who knew we could all be trusted to work from home and be so productive. Um, so that was a determining factor in me returning to Deakin because the last time I was here in /, I think it was. I live in the west of Melbourne and driving to Burwood Campus which was over the West Gate Bridge through the tunnel, up the Monash, up Toorak Road was a real drainer. So I found it really difficult to actually sustain that over a period of time. So when I got the opportunity to return to Victoria University, which is much closer to home, I reluctantly took it because I had enjoyed my time at Deakin previously where I was the Pod Leader in the Faculty of Health. And it was a very exciting time back then too. So in , I took up the position at Victoria University of Director of Connected Learning. And I introduced and co-led a major transformation project which was called the Block Model, which you may have heard of. This was a radical departure from the traditional model of higher education, where students study four units concurrently over a semester. What we did was we designed a program where students studied one unit at a time over four weeks. And that was in small classes where there was one academic who is teaching and leading each unit. It was a highly successful project and the students loved it. It was co-designed with students and with staff from across the University, including librarians, IT staff, admin staff, so it was a whole of University project and it absolutely reinforced for me the value of collaboration and connectivity. During that time, I was also Chair of a Community Health Board and where I could combine all of my passions because my first career was actually in health and mental health. So getting involved in education and health at the same time was great. And at the time as if I wasn’t busy enough, I was also on the Executive of the Council of Australian University Leaders in Learning and Teaching, which is the peak body for the university sector for learning and teaching. And that was a great experience and a great opportunity to connect with learning and teaching leaders from across the sector. So that’s in a nutshell what I’ve been doing for the last six years. 

Jo: And there’s so many projects that I’m really interested to hear more about. But I thought given your, your position in the higher education sector as really a leader in education, in digital education connected learning. What I really wanted to pick your brain about today was what’s coming up in, in the field of digital learning? What is it that you see as the biggest, the most exciting opportunities that we have over the next few years? 

Trish: Oh, just a moment and I’ll get out my crystal ball and dusted off here and just tell you exactly what’s going to happen in the next couple of years Jo. One of my enduring mantras 

is ‘finger on the pulse and eye on the horizon’. So I like to ensure that we’re doing the very best we can today, while we anticipate and plan for tomorrow. I think the pandemic has probably accelerated and intensified the trends that were already underway in the sector. Especially around the use of digital tools, communication tools, learning and teaching tools. I can pull off the shelf any list of the next big things, the things like Educause, the Horizon Report. They all list what’s coming over the horizon at us. It’s interesting though that none of them actually pick that there’ll be a pandemic, that we would have this opportunity. So I’m always cautious about being certain about definitely what’s the next big thing. I get excited, but also a bit spooked by the speed of digital    technology advancement. Things that we may have considered to be pure science fiction in the past are really close to reality today and have crept up on us. I suppose if you think about it in terms of the phases of the web, the Internet, we’re now up to version Web , 3, 3.0…whatever you care to call it. Web one was focused very much on. You go, you see you read. And I remember being very excited when I first discovered, I remember Google being invented. So having a search engine like Google that would actually find things for you to read and learn from was the epitome of innovation at the time. But then we had web two, which is much more focused on interaction, social connection. And that enabled us to engage with other people and to share resources. And that I think was probably the social web and was a good opportunity for people to re-engage with networks and share being from the northern hemisphere ,it was a great opportunity for me to share photographs of my kids, with my family or those sorts of things .But we’re now moving into what’s known as Web three, which is much more,  web 1 and 2 was controlled by the big corporations like Microsoft, Facebook, those sorts of things. So we were the product, we were the product that was being sold and our data was not owned by us. So there’s much more awareness of the need for privacy and control of the data that is out there about us. So I think Web three is moving much more into a decentralised self-sovereign model where we can control what’s out there about us and using things like blockchain technology. Dare I say it, the multiverse. There would be more opportunity to connect in virtual reality, the use of cryptocurrencies. So I think things are rapidly moving forward in learning and teaching we’ve got to leverage that. We’ve got to support our students and academic staff and professional staff to engage with these things and not to feel overwhelmed. So I think that we really need to pace ourselves. We need to ensure that we’re providing support for our teams and for our stakeholders in the higher education sector. Because it’s been a really bumpy couple of years and people are tired. So that’s, that’s what I see as being the opportunities coming forward, but we need to pace ourselves. 

Jo: I think that’s a really excellent point because you mentioned before, while a lot of the developments and I know you and I have had quite a lot of conversations about some of the AI developments as well, so I’m going to come back to that in a moment. But while a lot of these developments and new technologies are really exciting, as you said, they’re also a bit spooky. And particularly thinking about privacy and data security and the sheer amount of technology and new opportunities that are coming with us. I think if we’re not being mindful about what we’re using and what we’re using it for and how we’re using it, we, we run the risk of opening a really big can of worms. So I think that support that iterative careful exploration. While not we don’t want to miss out on the opportunities, but we also don’t want to rush in headlong and end up building a system for ourselves that really is putting us all at risk. And as you mentioned before, handing over a lot of our, our data to big organisations who we don’t know what they’re using it for.  

Trish: Yeah. And we have a duty of care to our staff and to our students to support them in that journey and to highlight the risks that are involved, and to educate them on how to navigate the risks and how to validate the information that they’re seeing in some of these tools. I think probably a bit more critically about what, what we are signing up for. Whilst there’s a lot of criticism in higher education about the learning management system, and that it doesn’t reflect what happens in the real-world, I think it is a safe space for us to play in and to test things and to bring in some of the other tools like we’re, currently using a Deakin and we did at my previous university, Feedbackfruits and HP, which are really good because we’re co-designing those tools as we build them with those vendors. And they have the student learning at heart. 

Jo: Yeah, I think it’s a really nice way to allow students to be able to explore some of those tools in a new context. Because let’s face it, we talk about digital natives and I’m not going to go into how flawed that, that whole concept is. Anyone who wants to talk to me about itis free to reach out. But just because people use technology all the time does not necessarily mean that they’re familiar with using it fora particular purpose or in a particular context in a particular way. So I think having the, while the boundaries of the LMS can at times be frustrating, it does, as you say, create a safe space for students to be able to explore their professional identity and their learning, develop some of those digital literacies in an environment that has, I guess fewer consequences than doing it out in the big wide world. 

Trish: And I’m just going to your point Jo, about digital natives and digital immigrants, that has been totally debunked. But there has been another theory put forward quite a while ago now by Dave White in the UK and it’s the concept of digital visitors or digital residents. And I think that increasingly people are becoming resident in the digital world because there’s always some device on or they’re connected to some program. So if you only go to the Internet, switch on your computer to do your banking, you go therefore a reason, then you turn it off and you leave, that would be considered a visitor. Whereas if you’re a resident, you always have things going in the background. You have your notifications on your phone, you have your mobile apps. So increasingly we are becoming digital residents and the digital is becoming an extension of ourselves, and let’s use it for good. 

Jo: Yeah, I think that’s, I do really like that, resident visitor theory. I think it describes it very, very nicely. So maybe when we shared this podcast will also include a link to some of that work. It’s certainly with looking at. 

Trish: And we do have that idea. Sorry to cut across you, Jo. We have that idea that somehow our students coming into universities are all digital residents and they’re all fluent in the use of digital technologies, and that’s not actually the case. We also make a lot of assumptions about some, let’s say, more mature academics or more mature staff that somehow, they’re Luddites and they don’t, they’re not fluent in the use of technologies. Some of the best use of technology that I have seen or blogs that I’ve read have been by people who are retired long ago, who actually are very fluent in the use of the technology. So it’s changing that generational perspective that somehow digital is for the younger people and us older folk are book driven, which is not necessarily the case. As I travelled to Ireland recently on a trip and I brought a big thick book with me to read on the plane. And I was very excited because I spent a lot of time in the digital world, and I found myself swiping the pages. It was a really interesting thinking about how our brains are hardwired now to use digital tools. 

Jo: And I think aside from questioning that assumption that our students are digital residents, let’s go with that and staff might be digital visitors, there’s also the, we need to throw out that assumption that our students are the young folk, and our staff are necessarily older and more experienced. Because that’s not necessarily always the case. There are more experienced in their particular field. But yes, certainly the, the student cohort has changed. Trish, thank you so much for joining us today for the podcast. You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about in terms of the future directions of educational technologies and some of the things we need to think about. And I know that I will certainly be questioning some of my assumptions. So on that note, we will leave it for today. But thank you once again, Trish, and everybody listening for joining us for this episode. 

10 November 2022

Last modified: 29 May 2023 at 2:47 pm

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