Skip to main content

Four weddings and a funeral: opportunities and threats with technology

The sector may be on the brink of major new policy changes and a new collaborative vision for its future.

Many might see this as a landmark and time of celebration offering great opportunity. Others might see it as a time of existential threat.

Whether it turns out to be a wedding or a funeral for the sector and its participants might depend upon how we respond to it.

The best advice might be to make sure we are not late to arrive.

The opening scenes of the classic Hugh Grant movie of this title starts with dramatic expression of expletives about the imminent arrival of something we had all set our alarm for but might still be caught out by unless we move quickly.

The long period of wishing that the sector had the attention of government, and could develop a union, are about to be over.

The interim report of the Australian Universities Accord is in the hands of the Minster, and we await its unveiling. I wonder what we will say when we see it?

There is an argument that the emergence of technology, particularly generative AI, offers the same range of prospects.

Some might have seen it coming for a while and have been preparing and positioning to be in shape to turn it into a celebration.

Others may feel surprised and threatened by its emergence and wish for a return to the good old days feeling very challenged by the new realities.

Whether it is policy change, or technological advancement, this is a time when we need to be sure our batteries are charged, and we are at our best for the inevitable change ahead. And we all have opportunity to make this an occasion of celebration rather than a lament of what is lost.

The challenges and opportunities with the future of learning have been typecast as the three A’s of being active, authentic, and applied.

At RMIT, the approach is active, applied and authentic. Students are active partners in experiential and problem-based learning activities.

There must be opportunities to learn through solving problems within scenarios grounded in real-world experiences.

Authentic industry-partnered learning (IPL) is embedded – with scaffolded work-integrated learning, career development learning and industry connectedness throughout the curriculum.

Students must develop relevant transferrable work and life skills when engaging in their learning activities.

Future-focussed technologies are embedded in activities, ensuring that students engage with relevant tools in their learning – whatever their disciplines – enhancing their learning experience and building their digital capabilities.

Assessment tasks are contextualised in life and work and provide practical evidence of learning and encourage and celebrate connections between and across disciplines that reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the world.

To those 3As might be added the concept of adeptness.

Digital adeptness or digital fluency is increasingly emerging as a dominant need for learners, workers and all sorts of businesses and organisations including those in higher education.

In 2021, RMIT University strengthened its commitment to it by becoming an Adobe Creative Campus – a program that spotlights leading universities from across the globe who recognise the value of digital literacy in higher education.

RMIT provides all students and staff individual access to the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of tools and leverages the strategic partnership to adopt innovative pedagogies, improve the student learning experience and harness digital agility across the entire university.

Regardless of their circumstances, location or area of study, students at RMIT participate in digital innovation, transform creative technology, and enjoy equity of access to technological transformations.

Students are increasingly grasping fluency and adeptness in their in-learning situations to the point where they actively seek out new technology and paradigms for its adoption.

They do so in a way that challenges their understanding of rules and boundaries for technology adoption in a learning context.

On the one hand, we strive to encourage them to do this while at the same time we struggle to understand how to govern it.

It may even be a challenge to define what plagiarism means any more.

For staff, there are similar challenges in an environment where tight budgets and resource constraints are causing all to seek increased productivity.

This needs staff to balance the opportunities of new technology to facilitate learning that students demand while meeting the needs of institutions struggling to understand how to control and govern technology.

For institutions under pressure to find new revenue streams and new business models, and manage staff and student expectations, there is a need for knowledgeable leadership, strategy, culture, and guidance. Few of our higher education institutions or leaders are used to or well prepared for this.

These themes were prominent in a series of roundtables conducted among multiple sector participants led by Adobe across the sector, involving 97 academic executive leaders and 22 students from 30 institutions across Australia.

In the conversations, authentic assessment proved to be top of mind for the participants. There was also a consensus on timing: re-thinking the way students are assessed is urgent – for decision-makers but also for students.

Students who joined the roundtables strongly expressed expectations of universities preparing them for a world where generative AI is an imperative.

They were also vocal about their dissatisfaction with the perceived lack of advancement in the evaluation process, making clear a desire for more creative and authentic forms of assessment.

Involving students in conversations about the way they are taught and how they are assessed was an insightful experience, and one that, fortunately, universities are now embracing.

The key lessons from how RMIT has developed its framework for education, and how Adobe has engaged with the sector for the future of learning, are that our use of technology has great scope to be an occasion to celebrate for the sector.

Whether it is through us being active, authentic, or applied in the same way that RMIT are promoting, or being adept in the way that digital fluency is being promoted by Adobe, finding new life and a new future, and avoiding existential threat is a real possibility.

There will inevitably be some expressions of shock, surprise, and disappointment when the Accord interim report does become available soon.

Not everyone will get what they wanted, hoped for, or expected.

But the best way of preparing for change and embracing new opportunity will come from adeptness that arises from accepting, embracing, and playing with technology with confidence.

It requires learning institutions to develop the leadership mindset that can unleash the inherent search for fluency that our staff and students possess.  The institutions that do this best may have much to celebrate ahead.

We had the chance to discuss this landscape for technology partnerships and the role that technology will play in the sector and in all of our futures, in a recent episode of the HEDx podcast you can access here.

We are delighted to all be participating together, along with other technology providers, with stakeholders of staff and student communities, and so many sector leaders, in a conference about the future of Australian higher education on July 20th in Sydney, which will develop these themes further.

First published in Campus Review on 10th July 2023.

Martin Betts, Co-Founder of HEDx

Manuela Franceschini, Adobe Pedagogical Evangelist

Professor Sherman Young, DVC Education, RMIT