An oft-repeated narrative that you have likely heard is that Higher Education institutions are dinosaurs that are resistant and slow to change. That’s not entirely untrue, but it’s not an accurate representation either.

“Education is broken” is one of the mantras reformists championing digital technology as a solution use, resting on the assumption that today’s classrooms were pretty much the same as classrooms from 100 years ago.

Yet. Higher education is not immune to innovations. On the contrary, it is often the source of them, and indeed, contemporary higher education is deeply intertwined with changes in society. As societies change over time time, so does Higher Education.

The resilience and changing nature of higher education is on full display at the moment due to COVID-19. Large in-person institutions moved anywhere between 6,000 to 9,000 courses in alternative remote teaching formats in a matter of weeks. Smaller institutions have done the same, at a scale aligned with their size. Anyone who abruptly switched to a new teaching format can tell you that there will be challenges there and pain points there. But everyone involved in this transition deserves major kudos. Regardless of institutional size, this feat is impressive. For those of us who teach in schools and colleges of education, for those of us who prepare educational technologists, instructional designers, digital learning leaders, and educational technology specialists, this is also a moment of pride for the work that our students and graduates do.

So, no, higher education is not broken. It is in a state of transition like it has always been, and like it will continue to be. While this transition, at this very moment, focuses on modality (i.e. the transition from in-person to online/remote), the longer-term transition will focus on other aspects of teaching and learning as well, including ways of assessment, program offerings, and so on. Four hope that I have for Canadian Higher Education (and there may be lessons here for other countries) are the following:

  • We collaborate more, rather than compete more
  • We use what we know from research on online learning, learning design, and flexible learning to guide us.
  • We pay greater attention to pedagogy, open educational resources/practices, and student equity
  • We pay greater attention to the learner experience, guided by a sense of compassion and care

Sending my warm wishes and love to all of you.