Themes:

  • Access & Quality
  • Delivering on the Needs of Employability

Expert panel speakers:-

  • Dr. Suaad Fahad Alharthi
    Saudi Ministry of Higher Education
  • Dr. Bruno Lanvin
    INSEAD
  • Dr. Jan-Martin Lowendah
    Gartner
  • Dr Tarek G. Shawki
    UNESCO, Director, Bureau for Science and Technology in Arab States
  • Dr Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic 
    UNESCO, Higher Education Division

Topics discussed:

This 'parade of the nay-sayers' as one of the panel joked, was tasked with discussing the barriers that must be overcome if all of the great ideas discussed can be put into place. I believe the discussion was best summed up by the following quote from Dr. Bruno Lanvin:

"A vision without an implementation is better known as a hallucination"

Disillusionment

One problem raised early on was that youth are disillusioned with learning in general, and have a diminished appetite for any type of formal learning, believing that it will not improve their quality of life, or career prospects.

Globalisation

A particular challenge, that is hard to deal with under our current system is that we are moving into a global world. Although this has been pitched as a benefit by many speakers previously, it is difficult for local institutions teaching their local students to deal with a world-wide industry of flat organisations with flat spreads of people around the globe.

Standards

Change requires flexibility, change requires innovation and improvisation. Innovation and improvisation can only take place within a structured environment - all of our best poetry, music, art, all comes from improvisation within a set of rules. Without some set of structured rules, borders, boundaries, innovation becomes near impossible.

"We Need Standards. Standards enable markets. Standards enable sustainable infrastructures. Standards enable flexibility, the flexibility needed to cope with change."

Education, worldwide, is lacking standards for many, many aspects of education. Standards must be applied to digital objects, to multi-lingualism, to course-content if we are to progress forwards with a distributed approach to education. However, how can we create international, worldwide standards whilst still preserving individuality, choice and cultural influences?

Multi-lingualism

Today's conference features a host of delegates from around the world. Many of these delegates speak English fluently, and for those who don't, there are real-time translations available via headsets so that they can fully appreciate every word.

"90% of content that exists online today is not in English"

The internet is a great resource for those who wish to further their knowledge - but often only if they speak English. To expand content globally, and to allow a global population to collaborate on work, and create content, this is an issue which must be addressed. There are some solutions already, such as automatic translation services, but these are rarely of a quality sufficient for tertiary education.

Mindmap of the workshop

Barriers to Achieving the Vision

Please click to enlarge the picture.

Quality

A point raised by many of those in the discussion was that of quality control of resources, as we expand towards mediums such as the web. A common joke amongst students is "If it's on Wikipedia, it must be true. If it's not, I'll go put it on there". Controlling the quality of information that is being set out is a major issue which will need to be addressed.

Controlling the quality of institutions is also becoming an increasing challenge, with many 'bogus institutions' offering degrees for little or no work. Many even claim to be certified by, or affiliated with organisations such as UNESCO - and having some kind of standards framework to deal with this is becoming increasingly important.

Infrastructure

There is often no price differential between buying technology in developed countries and buying it in developing countries - especially given how much technology is coming from commercial, private institutions. Poverty at an individual, and national level leads to poverty of infrastructure.

"Only 5% of 30 million Kenyans are even connected to the National Grid"

What do we do with this majority of people in the developing world? How can we possibly address the 'digital divide' when we have so many more basic needs that need to be satisfied before online collaboration can be considered.

An idea mentioned here was that investment in infrastructure could lead to a 'virtual marketplace' which would soon pay for itself through taxes - Ireland has been a strong example of the benefits this.

The Human Touch

"Technology will always be a second-choice medium of interaction for humans."

"If technology is as good as we claim it to be, why did we all fly half-way around the world to come to this conference instead of utilising technology?" asked one delegate, and it was certainly a hard question to answer. Despite the rapid growth of collaboration technologies, and their prevalence in the workplace, university is still a social experience to a great degree.

Most students would choose to spend time with peers and teachers, instead of using a computer for individual learning - however well avatars can represent emotions and however fast graphics can be communicated. How can this be reconciled with a move towards e-learning, distributed networks of education and such ideas?

Faculty resistance, readiness and knowledge

University staff are well versed in traditional teaching methodologies - workshops, lectures but as 'digital immigrants' may often lack the skillsets required not only to implement digital & virtual solutions, but also have the over-reaching problem of simply not 'getting' the brave new world of social networking, collaborative learning vs formal learning and many of the other paradigm shifts mentioned by Mr. Khan.

Faculty resistance is also likely to be an issue with any solution, and will come in many forms. From straightforward resistance to change (fear, ignorance, ideals, tradition), through to a lack of adaptability and even skepticism of the solutions presented, it will be hard for any solution to get off the ground with the backing of those 'on the front line'.