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Factories, cities, enterprises – what do we want of our universities

November 26th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

In this multitasking twitter and hash tags and live blogging world we live in I was following the Jisc CETIS conference on Technology for Learning, Teaching and the Instiution yeserday (as aside not Andy Powell provides wonderful live blogging from the conference circuit).

There was a keynote speech by Professor Andrew Feenberg. His conclusion appeared to be that we needed new metaphor for education – to move away form the model of a factory to the idea of city. Now I see the appeal in terms of modernism. And that is interesting since the connectivism strand of think appears to go far closer to post modernism in its approach. The city, I suppose, could be said to be multi cultural and socially enriching in terms of interaction. I still remain unconvinced but anything which moves education beyond the present factory modals has to be a good thing.

And then my eye fell upon an article by Mike Baker in the Guardian newpaper extolling the virtues of US universities, where his daughter had recently studied, as opposed to the practice of universities in the UK. Mike Baker points to the greater flexibility of US universities in terms saying “the libraries were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week…. my daughter’s fellow students could pack in extra credits if they wished to get through their degree more quickly or, if they needed a part-time job, they could take fewer credits and stretch out their studies. Equally, they could stay on for an extra summer semester if they wished. ….Many of her fellow American undergraduates arrived at the university from community college, transferring in their course credits……Our universities also seem reluctant to change admissions.”

All good points I suppose. But is this not really just ramping up the Taylorist education factory production system to make it more effcient and flexible to churn out yet more students. I am at one with Andrew Feenberg in wanting to examine the purpose and worth of our university system. It is the enterprise approach to teaching and learning which has done so much harm to attempts to develop new pedagogic approaches to the use of technology for learning. More enterprising enterprises is not going to help.

4 Responses to “Factories, cities, enterprises – what do we want of our universities”

  1. Martin Owen says:

    I seem to remember Univdrsity as a bloody good social club…. ah the sixties

  2. James Durkan says:

    I’d like to use the term ‘Centre of Excellence’ but it’s been hi-jacked by vacuous spin-doctors. So I’m not going to say that it should be a place where excellent people excel.

    Can I get away with ‘it should be a place where potentially excellent people develop their potential’? That’s a significant pedagogic shift; no more spoon feeding, no more dumbing down, no more remedial courses. I’m involved in this never-ending debate with my fellow Instructional Designers; any good coach knows you play to your strengths and not your weaknesses.

    Don’t for a moment think I’m callous enough to abandon those of greatest need – but University is not the place for them until they can handle it. It might feel obliged to provide off-campus facilities or an outreach program to accommodate those in need of make up classes but the intellectually gifted should have one haven in their life where they can just get on with achieving their potential.

    Mention a sports academy or an apprenticeship for a promising athlete or a modeling school for a pretty girl (‘or boy’, the 21st century man interjects) and there’s no problem with that. Mention a similarly exclusive environment for the gifted individual and just try to ride out the cries of ‘Elitist!’.

    And yes, I can hear Davina McCall banging on the door demanding I accept her view that everyone is equally excellent.

  3. James Durkan says:

    OK, here’s the short version of the lengthy comment your spam-filter flushed. It is not elitist to suggest that universities should be the province of gifted people; sports academies and modeling schools are not expected to accept everyone who walks in off the street. Let there be Burger College and Hairdressing Academy to provide vocational qualifications.

  4. Graham Attwell says:

    Hi James – could you or anyone else having difficulties with the comment function send me a short email describing this – spam filter should not be able to stop comments in that way.

    Onto the substance – I do not agree with you that the role of universities should be to educate gifted people (however that is defined). No surpise there. But I do agree that we need a broader debate over the role of universities in society today. And I agree that vocational education should hot primariliy be the task of universities – personally I would like to see an expansion of apprenticeship programmmes. Univerisities should have a major role in the development of knowledge within the community – and that includes an extended and distributed community. But that means also re-examining how we fund universities as well as curricula and pedagogic approaches.

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