In a post to mark the LSE HE Blog’s second anniversary, Dilly Fung reflects on the changing face of higher education in a post-COVID world
I recently listened to a fascinating discussion, We are all in this together: has Covid-19 taught us how to save the world?, part of the LSE Events festival for 2021. The thought-provoking debate challenged us to consider the direction that the world can, and should, take after the Covid-19 crisis, and how the social sciences can help to shape its new direction. Many social scientists have applied a behavioural science lens to the challenges we’re all now facing, highlighting the experiences of the past year which have shone a new light on the relationship between our individual decision-making, and the collective good. In particular, LSE’s Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington argued, “Social science is normally about individuals, but one thing that Covid has taught us is that all individual behaviours have a collective dimension, and this plays out in a number of ways. Individual behaviours always affect others, and even our own private decisions … affect broader collective outcomes.”
The discussants considered a number of challenges and opportunities related to the collective learning from the global pandemic, such as the climate crisis, an equally challenging wicked problem that can only be addressed through the coming together of individuals and communities with different perspectives and areas of expertise. This struck a chord with me, because surely what the world needs now, more than ever, is a higher education collective, rather than a suite of individual experts, however talented and committed they may be. We need to put aside competition and division, and focus on what we can build together as we look forward.
This is true for research, and the same applies in the domain of student education. In the past, teaching in higher education has often been seen as a solo activity, but the world has changed. The post-Covid era will bring fresh opportunities for engaging and inspiring students, through innovative combinations of face-to-face and digitally mediated activities. This richer, and more complex spectrum of opportunities for learning design, means that teams within, and across, departments will have the chance to craft a new kind of education that keeps all the best of what of we had before the pandemic, while making the most of new possibilities. Will we build more multimedia resources into our courses? Will we be more willing to flip lectures, asking students to engage with pre-prepared materials to access content so that we can spend more time in the classroom on interactive tasks? Will we re-think student assessments? And will we all be willing to step further out of our personal comfort zones as individual teachers, and become educators who play an active part in the good of the education collective?
education should be about the transformation of individuals and communities through dialogue, and shared experiences for the global common good, rather than a competitive individualistic endeavour
Our assumptions about good education can be revisited. I argue, in my book, Connected Curriculum, that education should be about the transformation of individuals and communities through dialogue and shared experiences for the global common good, rather than a competitive, individualistic endeavour. If this is so, then a key focus for us, as educators, should be on how we can enable students to learn through interacting and collaborating with others. This theme is promoted in the Education for Global Impact strand of our LSE 2030 strategy.
A recent, inspirational collaboration between students on the MSc Urban Planning programme at LSE and students at Ardhi University in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, illustrates this approach. Erica Pani and Nancy Holman enabled students to work together across their different national contexts using WhatsApp, Zoom, and Moodle. Students engaged in a research project in which they compared and contrasted their local, real-world environments. It will be great to see a proliferation of ways in which higher education students can connect across departmental, institutional, and national boundaries, as their learning opportunities are increased through our making the most of diverse digital platforms.
There is also a real opportunity here for us to think afresh about what we ask students to do to demonstrate their learning. I proposed recently, in a presentation to the UK Quality Assurance Agency’s annual conference, that all students in higher education should be empowered, through participating in a coherent and well-structured programme of study, to develop a unique personal narrative that connects their learning with their personal identities. They should then be encouraged to speak authentically with their own voice and values, and given opportunities to showcase their work and ideas to different audiences.
"We can create a connected curriculum, both in design and in the minds of students" - @DevonDilly champions degree-wide showcase portfolios, encouraging students to look back on the whole of their learning and produce outputs/assessments directed to an audience #QAA2021— QAALive (@QAALive) May 11, 2021
A newly developed final-year showcase course at LSE, led by Lee Edwards, will offer students a capstone opportunity to develop a more holistic and coherent view of their learning journey during their studies. It will provide them with a framework for continued analysis and reflection as they progress through their personal and professional lives. The showcase approach moves beyond the individual to the collective in learning design, by encouraging students to think about cutting-edge knowledge, and evidence-based argument in relation to different communities and audiences. It asks students to think about who in the world has, or could have, a stake in their new knowledge and arguments. It also explicitly situates an individual learner’s understandings, insights, and skills within a relationship; can they engage, persuade, listen to, and inspire others? Others across the higher education sector are developing outward-facing, collaborative, and engaging assessments; it will be fascinating to see where this creative path takes us.
Education must surely now be a team game for the whole university community – faculty, professional staff, students, alumni, and partners. If we come together to share examples of innovative practice, for example, by discussing case studies like the ones developed by LSE’s Eden Centre for Education Enhancement, everyone, with a stake in enhancing our educational provision, can learn from one another. We can cherish and keep all the best of our traditional approaches to education, but also create new inspirational possibilities that bring us together, not only to debate and critique one another’s ideas, but also to celebrate our common experiences, collaborate on shared goals, and contribute to the global common good.
This post is opinion-based and does not reflect the views of the London School of Economics and Political Science or any of its constituent departments and divisions.