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The critical university and the digital university

Conference Paper


Abstract


  • Universities, with their central and sanctioned status in the production and dissemination of knowledge, are in no way ‘neutral’ with respect to the roles and impacts of the communication technologies they choose to use, develop, and endorse in their own routine activities. Rather, they are deeply involved in alternately normalising, and contesting, aspects and elements of the digital media architecture they selectively engage with. On what kinds of grounds are these engagements made? More specifically, with respect to contemporary teaching and research practices, we might ask: Why are universities so preoccupied, at this time, with digital media? Why are universities more interested in some communication technologies than others? What is the relationship, exactly, between learning and access to and production of mediated content? In what ways might such content, and the technologies with which it is developed and relayed, actually shape the understanding of that relationship? Do the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, more or less than other fields, need face-to-face dialogue for their survival and transmission in institutional educational settings? In thoroughly mediated educational contexts, what will count as critical, and how will it be expressed and evaluated? Recent developments, such as the debate about open access publishing and the emergence of and investment in MOOCs, highlight the ambivalence of universities in relation to digital media, and the prevarication and oscillation between (often largely tacit or at least unarticulated) competing and incompatible perspectives about how digital media might enhance or threaten the core business of the institution. Furthermore, a compelling argument can be advanced to the effect that these technologies are actually deeply implicated in the reconstitution of this core business, in both pragmatic and substantive social and political terms, as regards how research, teaching and learning are tracked (and in effect, therefore, shaped) and evaluated or assessed. For both scholars and students, the adoption of online systems for the capture and display of information implies imposing and inculcating a robust culture of visibility and ‘accountability’. As many others have suggested, this can be taken to mean the reshaping of ideals of critical inquiry along neoliberal lines, with an upshot of extremely specific and delimited ‘outcomes’ as measures of success. For students, online assessment might seem novel, convenient, or just tedious. For universities, it means a continuous data stream capturing ‘student engagement’ with the products and services the institution provides. The pedagogical implications of this shift, and the implications for more ‘traditional’ ideals of critique, are the subject of this paper.

Publication Date


  • 2013

Citation


  • Whelan, A. (2013). The critical university and the digital university. IAMCR 2013 Conference International Association for Media and Communication Research.

Place Of Publication


  • http://www.iamcr2013dublin.org/content/critical-university-and-digital-university

Abstract


  • Universities, with their central and sanctioned status in the production and dissemination of knowledge, are in no way ‘neutral’ with respect to the roles and impacts of the communication technologies they choose to use, develop, and endorse in their own routine activities. Rather, they are deeply involved in alternately normalising, and contesting, aspects and elements of the digital media architecture they selectively engage with. On what kinds of grounds are these engagements made? More specifically, with respect to contemporary teaching and research practices, we might ask: Why are universities so preoccupied, at this time, with digital media? Why are universities more interested in some communication technologies than others? What is the relationship, exactly, between learning and access to and production of mediated content? In what ways might such content, and the technologies with which it is developed and relayed, actually shape the understanding of that relationship? Do the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, more or less than other fields, need face-to-face dialogue for their survival and transmission in institutional educational settings? In thoroughly mediated educational contexts, what will count as critical, and how will it be expressed and evaluated? Recent developments, such as the debate about open access publishing and the emergence of and investment in MOOCs, highlight the ambivalence of universities in relation to digital media, and the prevarication and oscillation between (often largely tacit or at least unarticulated) competing and incompatible perspectives about how digital media might enhance or threaten the core business of the institution. Furthermore, a compelling argument can be advanced to the effect that these technologies are actually deeply implicated in the reconstitution of this core business, in both pragmatic and substantive social and political terms, as regards how research, teaching and learning are tracked (and in effect, therefore, shaped) and evaluated or assessed. For both scholars and students, the adoption of online systems for the capture and display of information implies imposing and inculcating a robust culture of visibility and ‘accountability’. As many others have suggested, this can be taken to mean the reshaping of ideals of critical inquiry along neoliberal lines, with an upshot of extremely specific and delimited ‘outcomes’ as measures of success. For students, online assessment might seem novel, convenient, or just tedious. For universities, it means a continuous data stream capturing ‘student engagement’ with the products and services the institution provides. The pedagogical implications of this shift, and the implications for more ‘traditional’ ideals of critique, are the subject of this paper.

Publication Date


  • 2013

Citation


  • Whelan, A. (2013). The critical university and the digital university. IAMCR 2013 Conference International Association for Media and Communication Research.

Place Of Publication


  • http://www.iamcr2013dublin.org/content/critical-university-and-digital-university