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Sacred Heart University Library Newsletter for Faculty No. 23 (March 2021)

The Lede: Two New Books on the Future of Higher Education

The Lede: Two New Books on the Future of Higher Education

Bryan Alexander's Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education, and Joshua Kim's and Edward Maloney's Learning Innovation and the Future of Higher Education (both 2020 from Johns Hopkins University Press) set very different boundaries and take very different approaches to their subject.  Yet they are also fascinating to read in imaginary dialog: the one expansive, the other organizational; the one a futurist's set of questions and the other seeking to establish a new discipline and its role in academia as well as on any particular campus.  They don't say similar things, but they do offer contrasting and useful perspectives.

Academia Next is by a futurist, and if you're allergic to futurist kinds of thinking, stop here (or skip to below).  Alexander is trying to extrapolate likely, possible, or unexpected consequences from visible trends, and ask what are possible, desirable, and aspirational scenarios by 2035.  Like other examples in the futurist genre, he might be faulted for inadequately understanding the complexities and contingencies of historical causation, which neither repeats nor hardly ever rhymes (pace Mark Twain).  In addition, historical development is hardly continuous improvement in one direction: there are lapses, losses, lacunae, and outright blunders which will be forever hard to explain. 

Nevertheless, Alexander's scenarios can be variously compelling and repellant: (1) higher education in decline; or (2) higher education as an adjunct to "health care nation;" or (3) higher education transformed by open resources, scholarship, and enrollments; or (4) the "augmented" campus or face-to-face learning with significant augmented and mixed reality; or (5) more automated learning ("Siri, tutor me") or (6) the self-consciously retro campus that carefully limits digital entanglements.  Alexander mentions the very real problems of digital security, and articulated understandings of privacy and self-ownership of data only in passing.  The potential growth of a surveillance campus that would rival China's surveillance state carries numerous moral and legal questions.  Exactly who is entrusted with all that information, and if outside vendors, then under which circumstances? Cui bono? student, administrator, parent, government official, funding lender, teacher? 

Academia Next was published on the cusp of the multiple meltdowns of 2020: pandemic, economy, anti-racism, and paranoid conspiracy-mongering.  Although these entangled crises might have disqualified Alexander's futurism, they erve to focus what is at stake in higher education: cui bono? again.  Current forecasts for what will change or remain the same in higher education post-pandemic, post-neoliberal economics, post-conspiracy are doubtless premature, and the real gains or losses are bound to be unexpected or only half-expected: things fall apart (and racism, alas, is unlikely to dissipate quickly).  Through all that he knew about in early 2020, and learned in subsequent events, Alexander calls for clarity of vision, courage, and persistence: the traditional values of higher education will not be entirely misplaced and some expensive commitments will continue to be worthwhile.

Kim's & Maloney's Learning Innovation is decidedly more modest regarding the future, and grounded regarding current practice.  They ask what are the organizational, pedagogical, and disciplinary consequences of presently developing theoretical frameworks, methodological practices, shared challenges, and goals as regards learning innovation?  K&M unpack the title words themselves (learning, innovation), and their chapters on changing understandings of learning and institutional change clarify many issues often buried in the bustle of actively producing instruction. 

K&M's chapter "Reclaiming Innovation from Disruption" alone is worth the price of the book: they show carefully how "disruptive innovation" poorly serves higher education (especially when devotees to the cult throw shade on anyone who questions it).  Higher education is a complex ecosystem; learners are not products; higher education is diverse.  The fundamental orientation towards sharing learning, ideas, and plans, right down to budgets, communications strategies, and technical know-how "would shock anyone who has spent a career in the corporate world."  It is easier to ask what is not shared than what is.  K&M's brief history of PLATO, the 40-year progenitor of all subsequent digital learning platforms clinches their case.   The oft-unexamined faith that new technologies will disrupt the future of colleges and universities almost always ignores the history of educational technologies and erases the impact of other sources of change.  (This is a pertinent rejoinder to Alexander, as above.)

Academia Next at this date is available in SHU library only in print copy; Learning Innovation is available both in print and online (with unlimited concurrent users, and printing or e-mailing unlimited pages).  Learning Innovation is easy to read as long as you can bear to read from a screen.  (A leading cause of eye strain during the pandemic.) I hear Buzz Lightyear: "To infinity and beyond!"

A Resource You Should Know About: Coronavirus Research Database

A Resource You Should Know About: Coronavirus Research Database

The pandemic has already changed scholarly publishing (though all the results will not be apparent for a while).  COVID-19 is indirectly responsible for far more open-access content, and proprietary publishers opening content for widespread dissemination to assist health care, public policy, and research.  "Open Access" is now well beyond proof-of-concept; after 2020 it is a proven practice. Coronavirus Research Database "curates openly available content" from open-access resources by leader publishers as well as current research in pre-print repositories."  While much of this content is health sciences and biology, there is also excellent content on policy, communications, and societal issues: for example, try this search: Coronavirus and misinformation

The content of Coronavirus Research Database is designed to help students, researchers, and health care professionals investigate answers to pressing questions arising in the wake of the pandemic. The database will continue to grow as more is learned and new content is published.  It also is a gateway to supplementary resources such as this video by ProQuest (well worth watching and showing students):

Two Updated Resources with Improved Interfaces: DataPlanet and PolicyMap

Two Updated Resources with Improved Interfaces: DataPlanet and PolicyMap

Dataplanet and PolicyMap are excellent tools for teaching content and concepts that can drive theoretical and practical narratives.  They are useful for teaching a wide array of subjects in natural sciences, social sciences, health sciences, social work, and media studies.  Their usefulness is often overlooked insofar as these tools have improved so much in a decade. 

Dataplanet is a vast collection of U.S. and international statistics in datasets.  An instructor can present data and variables in customized tables, maps, rankings, and charts.  Those interested in consumer behavior can consult Claritas Consumer Profiles.  The interface has been streamlined for simpler and more intuitive use.  More information is available through DataPlanet's own research guide.  Students have responded well to DataPlanet's numerous videos.

PolicyMap's improved interface now allows users to conduct deeper analyses, set up to five criteria on a single multi-layer map, and zoom down eight levels on pre-set maps (such as census and other defined areas).  A sidebar can now list data side-by-side in tabular form.  Four different base maps can place satellite and terrain views, layer thematic data, points, custom regions, and boundaries on top of maps to create a very rich information environment for comparison and analysis.  PolicyMaps' numerous helpdocs offer help both to make a quick start, and to tailor mapping abilities to your instructional needs.   This video quick-start is a great place to begin:

A New Library Service: New Resources Guide

A New Library Service: New Resources Guide

Some faculty have indicated that they have missed the "new books" lists that library used to produce several times a year. 

The Library's New Resources guide showcases selected new e-books, printed books, journals, and databases.  The lists are broadly classified by College and subject area, and two areas that cut across academic disciplines: Diversity and Inclusion, and Popular Reading (both fiction and non-fiction printed books). 

(The popular reading is a set of leased books, and the collection changes annually or more often.) 

Diversity and Inclusion resources include fiction, non-fiction, some recent such as Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Anti-Racist (e-book), and some not recent but still noteworthy, such as Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father, and reference works such as Black Power Encyclopedia.   The New Journals and Databases page include new access to previous printed journals, such as Interdisciplinary Environmental Review and Journal of Catholic Social Thought.