Simply Academic – Quick Task 1

Be more than just another…..

In 2008 it was noticed amongst higher educational establishments that the type of students crossing their thresholds was changing, the digital native was evolving and a newer breed of technological progeny was emerging. A furore of excitement flew up around this advanced new breed that were quickly baptised as the new millennials and fears grew that our didactic teaching methods were too archaic and changes were needed urgently.

In response to this in 2011 Sense Publishing produced a text which included an academic review by Sian Bayne and Jen Ross that took a critical approach to the discourse around this subject. This post however does not pertain to the result of that study although it will be covered but the processes involved in deconstructing said texts in aid of my own studies in order to extract the necessary information.


A Critique

This paper takes a critical approach to a discourse still commonly applied in our
discussions and understandings of the relationship between practitioners in higher
education and the new digital technologies – that of the distinction between the socalled
‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’. We critique this over-simplistic binary
from a range of perspectives, highlighting its tendency to de-privilege the role of
the teacher, its implicit alignment with an understanding of higher education as
market-driven and commodified, and its reliance on a series of highly problematic
and dangerously deterministic metaphors. We end the paper with a call for a more
carefully critical and nuanced understanding of the effects of new technologies on
the practices and subject positions of learners and teachers in higher education.

The introduction can often be taken as a general summary of the entire report, not to be confused with a proposal which is written prior to the study commencing. The introduction is produced following the works conclusion.

Academic text can more often than not be complex, quite often it seems that the authors take a sadistic delight in attempting to confound the average reader with its abstruse concepts and cerebral grammar. Decoding these cabalistic documents starts unsurprisingly with the title. Here it tells me the authors should I wish to reference them or attempt to learn more about them and the subject matter at hand. It also informs me that this is a critique which allows me a better understanding of their approach to the subject. In addition but not shown here are the publishing company, the document it was included with and date it was first presented. From here I can discover if the publisher had produced other works or was known for a particular bias or if the content of the whole document was produced with a specific agenda. If I was keen to cite this information in support of my own conclusions then its provenance would be critical to my own works credibility.

McWilliam (2002) draws our attention to the basis of ‘professional development’
agendas in an enterprise culture within higher education, of which skills development
in the use of technology is a cornerstone. Clegg et al. too (2003) have made a
compelling case for the way in which e-learning has been constructed as determined
by the unquestionable ‘needs’ of globalisation and the marketisation of higher
education, while Fairclough (1993) has demonstrated how higher education has been
colonised by a ‘marketized’ public discourse which emerges across its promotional
literature and its various constructions of academic and student roles.
We can track within the ‘digital native’ literature and discourse an alignment
with this vision of higher education as market driven and determined by a culture
of enterprise. The need for institutions and individual academics to change (to become
more ‘digital’) is regularly justified by referral to student ‘needs’ which come to
stand as proxy for market ‘needs’:
What do the differing learning preferences and views of technology of the
‘new students’ mean for colleges and universities? There might be few implications
if students were passive consumers and did not use their ‘purchasing
power’… Colleges and universities may find that understanding – and meeting
the expectations of – the ‘new students’ is important to their competitiveness.
(Oblinger 2003, p. 42)
There is little evidence, in fact, that students do desire more technologically-driven
approaches to teaching and learning (McWilliam 2002), and research demonstrates
that they often resist and themselves de-privilege the modes of identity construction
and teaching associated with e-learning (JISC 2007, Bayne 2005). Across the
literature, we see the ‘needs’ of the ‘native’ – for instant access, for customer-service
orientated provision, for flexible, modularised approaches – used as justification
for the perpetuation of a particular, commodified view of how higher education
should be. Unsurprisingly, the ‘native’ discourse – which constructs the teacher as
redeemable only through his or her active engagement with a development agenda –
is itself one which originates with, and is primarily perpetuated by, developers

Without dissecting the entire texts we chose another area for scrutiny. Quite often only certain parts will hold real importance so skimming to find those areas will save time and effort. Each new section will have a header and then the first part of the text is likely to provide you with sufficient information that will allow you to extract what you need and move on. You will also often find references to other academics works and these can often provide valuable new insights into your studies and should be noted for future research. Whilst reading through this it is clear there is a dismissive tone towards some of the discourse of the subject matter, this begins to give some clear indicators of the direction this study is going and intimates at its conclusion.

Our argument is not that changing media environments have no effect on the way
in which we are constituted as subjects, and as learners and teachers. Similarly,
each new generation of students asks us continually to re-think our understanding
of the project and purpose of education, both online and off. Rather, we argue against
the reduction of our understanding of these issues to a simplistic binary which
contains within itself the structural de-privileging of the teacher, a marketised vision
of higher education, a racialised and divisive understanding of student-teacher
relationships and an associated series of metaphors which ‘write out’ the possibility
of learner and teacher agency in the face of technological change. As teachers,
developers and researchers in higher education, we need to become more critical of
a discourse which otherwise promises to over-determine our future understanding of
the complex relationships between teacher, learner, technology and higher education.

The conclusion offers a brief overview to the study and confirms what the reader should already have reached. In this instance Sian Bayne and Jen Ross terminate their work having determined that the issues surrounding the discourses and subsequent proposals of change are ultimately over simplistic and warn against any radical reforms based on the current understanding. They do acknowledge that those discourses are important and should have taken place however they must form part of a deeper examination of higher educations future pedagogical needs.

Deciphering academic texts is critical to supporting your own studies and this seemingly masochistic undertaking is ultimately rewarding when establishing integrity within your work.

The unprecedented availability of information is one of the products of our digital age and so the need for critical thinking is fundamental amidst the sophistry and bias of the world wide web.  Although these scholarly texts offer a higher level of credibility they must always be viewed with a measure of dubiety before be used to support your own conclusions.


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