The student as customer

I spent most of my time this spring visiting Ontario institutions.

When I visit, I share the idea of growing a community of higher education collaborators that use digital tools to reach across institutions and connect. I share stories of excellence and compassion. I share the values of our organization fixed on access and the empowerment of educators and learners: the people at the core of our collective success.

And, I always make a point of sharing the story of the Student Experience Design Lab (SXD Lab). There is a lot I can say about the Lab and the way it works, but my colleague, Chris Fernlund does a wonderful job of that in his post “We Do Design”. There is something else that interests me about the Lab: its mandate.

Purposeful learning for a meaningful life. This is the mandate that emerged when a group of students considered what might drive their work in problem definition for higher education. What kinds of questions would they explore? Anything that has the potential to contribute to the growth or promotion of purposeful learning for a meaningful life. 

A recent post by Ben Williamson called “Edu-business as usual – market-making in higher education” lays out, in detail, the deliberate commodification of higher education. Williamson uses Pearson as an example of a private company that is actively making, managing and maintaining the concept of higher education as a marketplace: “In these important ways, Pearson is participating in making an increasingly competitive HE market in which it is itself a competitor…”

Pearson is only one example. Williamson’s description fits many private sector companies seeking to stake a claim in higher education.

A commodified higher education system means a purely transactional relationship between student and institution. Money in — job out. But the students we work with don’t see their education as a means to an end. They are looking for an authentic learning experience, in which they are an active partner, which leads to a life of fulfillment, productivity and contribution. An alumni salary survey three years out does not capture that sense of fulfillment.

The idea of purposeful learning for a meaningful life sits in opposition to a higher education system that sees students as customers rather than citizens. I think it is quite possible that, now, more than ever, young people will recognize the feeling of having their futures commodified. And they won’t like it.

Handle with care

Reflections from Festival of Learning, 2018

Photo by: Chris Fernlund

Late May is a good time of year to go West. The rhododendrons are in full bloom and the Pacific is warm enough to swim. We packed it all in to 3 full days at the Festival of Learning conference, hosted by BCcampus.

The conference theme – Handle with Care – explored the many manifestations of care and compassion in educational processes, policies, principles and pedagogies. An opening keynote from digital pedagogue Jesse Stommel set the stage for a vibrant discussion that carried throughout the conference. Jesse challenged the audience to flip the power dynamic between teacher and student through deliberate acts of compassion. This effort to build a trusting relationship between educator and learner can be an uphill battle in a traditional higher education environment, which, as Jesse noted, tends to wield learning outcomes as weapons.

Visual Note by Giulia Forsythe

This opening keynote provided the perfect segue for my colleague Chris Fernlund and I to share our thoughts on the importance of learner and educator empowerment. Through initiatives like the Student Experience Design (SXD) Lab and Ontario Extend, eCampusOntario demonstrates a commitment to build human-centered spaces and communities that nurture the individual skills, attributes and talent of Ontario learners and educators.

The work of the SXD Lab, for example, unpacks the lived experience of learners to better understand the pain points in their educational experience. As a centre of excellence supporting institutions, eCampusOntario is well positioned to find solutions that better serve technology-enabled learning and teaching across all colleges and universities. In this environment, we advocate for reciprocal, compassionate and empathetic relationship between the educators and learners which prioritizes meaningful learner participation.

It is not uncommon to hear frustrated educators say some students are just lazy. It is not uncommon to hear unengaged students say some teachers are just bad. Those perceptions are directly challenged by a ‘handle with care’ philosophy. If empathy and compassion underpin the learner-educator dynamic and institutions proactively support these environments, we might find ourselves having a different kind of conversation.

If the cultivation of user experience becomes standard practice, learners, educators, administrators, and institutions all stand to benefit from a better understanding of the motivations, attitudes and perceptions within our higher education community.

Thank you to BCcampus for the opportunity to share in the conversation at the Festival of Learning conference.

The name game

Sharing DoOO Origin Stories

In August, eCampusOntario launched the Extend project. You can learn all about it at Ontario Extend. More on that project to come. As part of our first initiative, we provided participants with a 5 year subscription for a Domain of One’s Own through Reclaim Hosting.

To support our participants, Alan Levine created this Guide to Extending with Domains of Our Own which provides a super simple step-by-step guide to setting up and cultivating a domain of your own. Naming your domain can be a difficult process and is as unique as the person behind it.  I think it is valuable for us to share our DoOO origin stories, so here is mine.

Domain naming

When the challenge came round to create, and more importantly name, this website, I turned back toward a former life as a student of English literature. I wanted to find some comfort in metaphor while not giving over to it completely. In my experience, no one maintains that balance better than Herman Melville.

The Mast-Head is the title of Chapter 35 of Moby Dick. It is the highest point of a ship and a place to spot both bad weather and whales.  It is also a place, as Ishmael describes, to think and reflect. He even goes so far as to warn business-focused ship owners not to hire “any lad with lean brow and hollow eye; given to unseasonable meditativeness” (MD, 135). Those guys won’t get you any whales!

I appreciate the idea of the a space designed for reflection. That is what a blog is, after all.

The kicker in all of this (and with Melville there is always a kicker) is that those same dreamers enjoying flights of fancy in the Mast-head have a tendency to slip. Thankfully the blog is much more forgiving!

For me, this is a reminder not to take myself too seriously. Blogging is such a personal act this seems like an important thing to keep in mind. Thanks, Herman.

P.S – If you’ve suddenly got the Moby Dick bug and want an easy access point, check out Moby Dick Big Read. Each chapter is read aloud by a different person. Public and freely accessible, it is one of my most favourite projects.

For Reference:

Melville, Herman, Moby-Dick 2nd ed. Ed. Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford. New York: Norton, 2002.