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Discussions of digital technology in higher education often seem inextricable from notions of disrupting the boundaries of the institution, widening participation, or fostering the internationalisation of the sector. Such technology, whether designed for recent trends towards ‘openness’, ‘mobility’, or ‘development’ tend to be framed as universally valuable, and are often cast as wide-ranging solutions to a narrative of crisis in higher education across the globe. However, where digital technology is increasingly involved in producing, augmenting, and transforming relationships between local and global higher education activities, more work is needed to understand specific practices ‘on the ground’.
The three talks in this SRHE Digital University network event will highlight voices that are often unheard in the promotional discourse of educational technology. This work contributes towards a more developed understanding of the diverse, multifaceted, and contested project of digital education across the globe, where technologies conflict and correspond in complex ways to differing cultural, social, and political contexts. Such insights offer important ways of approaching the increasing internationalisation of higher education, through accounts that foreground the tensions, compromises, idiosyncrasies, and obfuscations through which digital technologies are shaping (and being shaped by) local practices of teaching and learning.
Engaging with voices from the margins: the experience of a participatory action research project for mobile learning in Kenya
Jade Vu Henry, Doctoral Candidate, University College, London
In this presentation, I will juxtapose the voices of Kenyan health workers with those of material semiotics scholars (Law, 2009) to describe the challenges we faced during our participatory action research project. I will argue that the controversies in this mobile learning intervention were not so much a matter of geographic, socio-cultural or economic divides – but instead related to ontological politics, and the multiplicity of ways in which health workers, academics, mobile phones and other actors lived in relation to one another (Mol, 2002). I will then discuss how these findings align with specific conceptualisations of “marginalisation” and “inclusion”, drawing from science and technology studies, feminist theory and the anthropology of international development. This leads to my proposition that work on ICTs, “boundary infrastructure” and the “built moral environment” (Bowker and Star,1999) point to generative ways of enacting social justice – not as a normative claim or universal standard – but as embodied and dynamic sociomaterial practice.
Jade Vu Henry is a soon-to-be graduate of the Digital University, having pursued doctoral studies at UCL Institute of Education while residing in Paris, France. Prior to this, she worked as a public health practitioner on numerous projects for vulnerable populations in Brazil, Hong Kong, Haiti, Bolivia and the US.
Surfacing local educational and community practices amidst decisive models of universal educational systems
Dr Michael Gallagher, member of the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh
This presentation will discuss a call for special issues on local practices in digital education that challenge Silicon Valley narratives of universal educational systems. The call produced a very large response that allowed us to form two, distinct, special issues. The first for Learning, Media, and Technology attempts to surface perspectives and critiques that challenge the dominant narrative of a universal technological solutionism by foregrounding local pedagogical knowledge and practices of learning with technologies. This special issue will develop critical perspectives concerning the rise of digital education as a ‘global phenomenon’, and advance much more nuanced accounts of the tensions, compromises, idiosyncrasies, and obfuscations through which digital media is shaping (and being shaped by) local practices of teaching and learning across the globe.
The second for the European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning (EURODL) explores how these local practices coalesce or are orchestrated within communities of practice, which offer rich insights about digital technologies often overlooked by broad accounts of educational technology. The papers in this special issue advance an understanding of technology in-use, by surfacing specific groups, communities and practitioners that have come together around particular technologies, software and online spaces. Both special issues are attempts to foreground learning practices, pedagogies, communities, and systems largely unaccounted for in contemporary accounts of digital education.
Dr Michael Gallagher is a member of the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to mobile for development (M4D). His research focus is on digital education in development contexts largely through the lens of mobile learning and mobilities theory. He has worked with higher education in the East Asia, South Asian and Sub-Saharan Africa, largely to support academic practice in the humanities.
Securing Syria’s academic knowledge and industrial future: a case study of agricultural engineering education
Dr Tom Parkinson, Lecturer in Higher Education and Academic Practice, University of Kent, UK
Dr Shaher Abdullateef, Associate Professor, Mustafa Kemal University, Antakya, Turkey
Since conflict began in 2011, Syria has experienced the worst humanitarian crisis since the Cold War. The country’s higher education system, once relied upon to provide skilled labour for industry and agriculture, has been decimated physically, socially and infrastructurally. Thousands of the country’s academics have fled to other countries, and tens of thousands of formerly registered students have been forced to end their studies.
In this presentation we report and reflect critically on an intervention by Syrian academics in exile, in association with regional NGOs and the Council for At Risk Academics (Cara), to deliver a university-level agricultural engineering module to former students inside Syria via digital platforms and community centres. We discuss challenges related to de-skilling, recruitment, scarcity of resources, connectivity and mobility. Finally, we look beyond the study’s immediate focus on Syria and consider some further-reaching implications of this action research for educational-humanitarian interventions in other regions where there is conflict, including providing:
- Support for engagement between academia and industry in the context of war and humanitarian crisis
- Opportunities for at-risk academics to continue teaching and maintain the currency of their knowledge
- Opportunities for students, graduates and professionals in war-torn regions to sustain their knowledge and gain new skills
- Support for educated individuals and communities in leading the regeneration of their countries
- Protection for the intellectual heritage of countries besieged by war and humanitarian crisis