In the current pandemic, there is obvious interest in the resilience of higher education institutions. This is regularly framed in terms of financial robustness and the ability to bounce-back to a state of normalcy. But as I’ve argued before, resilience is about being able to adapt and thrive in a changing environment. Resilience is a positive anticipation and adaptation to uncertainty and complexity is of increasing importance both in terms of the current pandemic and, more broadly, the wider changes in the context of higher education. This concern with resilience in higher education is reflected in the increasing interest in innovation in that sector. See, for example, the Stanford2025 project and the follow on Unchartered Territory output and or Near Future Teaching at the University of Edinburgh.
As I think many are experiencing at the moment, the bureaucratic and process-orientated organisation of universities designed around stable programme and course delivery does not to enable rapid change and flexibility. As Hall (2011) points out, wider trends in the external environment are more often framed as risks or threats to business as usual rather than opportunities for new activities to be developed. This reflects the importance of the educational mission of higher education and so responses to change should be about preservation of this mission or ‘core purpose’. So adaptation to change in higher education is about the reconfiguration of resources and activities to protect that core purpose. As highlighted in the tweet below, resilience could be better framed as finding the possibilities for different futures in the present.
An interesting commentary here from last year that gives a summary of the relatively smooth and effective shift to online education in South Korea following the global pandemic. For me, this highlights the importance of investment in infrastructure in terms of general access to the internet. In addition, significant investment was made in digital education platforms to rapidly scale to meet the new demands for online teaching and learning.
Additional focus was on developing teacher capabilities through pilots and mentoring schemes. It is this situated and collaborative approaches to professional development of teachers that is key to really supporting a pivot to online teaching rather than relying on generalised training courses.
But all this investment hasn’t resulted in increasing student acceptance or satisfaction with online teaching.
Interestingly as well, universities and academics are particularly resistant to change and to adapting to digital pedagogies.