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.

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