Katz, R. (2010) Scholars, Scholarship, and the Scholarly Enterprise in the Digital Age Educause Review, Vol. 45. No. 2, pp. 44-56
It is always interesting to peek over the fence to see what the neighbours are up to. I’m sitting here in Canada just across the border, watching the good citizens of the United States going through the angst of self-criticism about their higher education system, although occasionally, Canadians such as Don Tapscott, Stephen Downes, George Siemens and myself will occasionally join the battle, partly for fun, and partly because the outcome will eventually affect our own much more slowly moving – and less self-critical – institutions in Canada.
Katz’s is another essay that tries to grapple with the potential effects of the digital age on the university, somewhat similar to those by Anya Kamenetz and Tapscott and Williams. However, the Katz essay is much more interesting and substantial, because he examines how a core function of the university, scholarship, is being affected by the digital age, and from there, he looks at the implications for the institutional framework that supports (or could support) scholarship in a digital age. In particular, he questions the whole concept of place that is at the heart of traditional universities, and its necessity for scholarship in a digital age.
Richard Katz is always an interesting read on the relationship between information technologies and the scholarly enterprise. As with the other essays, he does not provide a design or plan for the organization of scholarly activities, although he does suggest some principles or issues that academic institutions will need to address if they are survive in the digital age, which I greatly oversimplify below:
- the branding of higher education will be essential – but probably not ‘campus-focused’ branding
- the formulation of a general educational philosophy that also helps to distinguish scholarship from other forms of information or knowledge management
- an alignment around academic standards
- a consensus on the institution’s footprint, which may not be geographical, but will be distinctive and easily recognizable
- flexibility in the design and delivery of its academic activities, processes and services
- the need to be a global ‘citizen’, i.e., engaged at a global level
While these discussions about the digital age and its impact on higher education are interesting and fun they do seem to be somewhat divorced from the day-to-day practicalities students and faculty are facing. Certainly speaking from a Canadian perspective, what Katz and the others are intelligently anticipating still seems far from the reality of everyday life in our universities and campuses. In particular the deadening hand of organizational culture stifles even the hint of innovation in teaching and learning in most institutions, at least here in Canada. So maybe they are doomed, but not for a while yet.
What seems to be shaking up the thinking in the USA is the financial crisis, particularly in states such as California and New York, and the ever-growing cost of higher education to those that directly use the system, through increasing tuition fees.
In Canada, we are not (yet) seeing the same pressures and angst. Even in a province with a $20 billion deficit (Ontario), the government continues to increase its spending in real terms on post-secondary education, in the belief that it will generate new business and jobs that will help clear the deficit (will Ontario become Canada’s Greece?). As anxious as I am to see change in our institutions, I’m not sure I want it to be the result of desperately responding to a crisis, because the students in particular are likely to suffer, at least in the short term. I would though like to see government spending more closely linked to innovation and change in our institutions, but few politicians seem to be up to that battle here in Canada.
What I liked about Richard Katz’s article (unlike those of Tapscott and Kamenetz) is that he doesn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. He recognizes the value of the core functions of universities, but is seeking to find a way to foster and protect them and at the same time make them relevant in a rapidly changing world. For this reason, I strongly recommend the article to all those who want to find a way to change our universities without destroying them.
Kamenetz, A. (2010) DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education White River Jct VT: Chelsea Green
Tapscott, D. and Williams, A. (2010) Innovating the 21st century university: It’s Time Educause Review, Vol. 45, No. 1
(see Kamenetz, A. (2010) Adapt or decline Inside Higher Education, March 26)