inequality & networks: the sociocultural implications for higher ed

Next week is #dLRN15 at Stanford. Months of planning and debating and collaborating (and panicking!) all come together to launch an inaugural conference/conversation on Making Sense of Higher Education: Networks & Change.

It’s all Panic At The Disco around here these days, people.

There are some serious high hopes embedded and embodied in #dLRN15. Not just for a successful event – though a successful event is a joy forever, as the poets say. Or, erm, something like that. But success is a complex thing, and hopes go beyond the event.

#dLRN15 is grounded in the kind of quiet hopes most of us in higher ed these days don’t talk about all that much: the hopes that things can actually get better. The hopes that research can be conducted and communicated in such a way as to shape the direction of change. The hopes for a future for the spirit of public education, in a time when much in higher ed seems to have been unbundled or disrupted or had its goalposts moved.

Those kinds of hopes are waaaaay too big to lay on the shoulders of any single event or single collection of people…but still, we got hopes, and they underpin the conversations we’re hoping to start through this small, first-time conference next week. We have the privilege of bringing together powerful thinkers like Adeline Koh and Marcia Devlin and Mike Caulfield as keynotes, plus systems-level folks and established researchers and students and grad students and people from all sorts of status positions within higher ed, all thinking about the intersection of networked practices and learning with the institutional structures of higher ed.

However, there’s one strand of conversation, one hope, in the mix at #dLRN15 that I’m particularly attached to. It’s the Sociocultural Implications of Networks and Change in Higher Ed conference theme, and particularly the opening plenary panel of the conference, on Inequities & Networks: The Sociocultural Implications for Higher Ed. I’m chairing, and the ever-thoughtful George Station, Djenana Jalovcic, and Marcia Devlin have agreed to lead the conversation from the stage.

But we need you.

No plenary panel is an island…and while all of us contributing have our own deep ties to this topic, our role is only to start the conversation. Help us make it wider and take it further. Whether you’ll be there or not, your thoughts and input are welcome on the #dLRN15 hashtag or on our Slack channel, or here in the comments. Throw in.

To me, this is the strand that gets at the heart of what education is for, and who it includes, and how, in a time of massive stress: is the digital helping widen participation and equality? Is it hindering?

If the answer to both is “yes,” WHAT NOW?

The aim of the panel is to explore how intersectional issues – race, gender, class, ability, even academic status – in higher education are amplified and complexified by digital technologies and networked participation. While digital higher education initiatives are often framed for the media in emancipatory terms, what effects does the changing landscape of higher education actually have on learners whose identities are marked by race/gender/class and other factors within their societies?

We’ll be sharing and unpacking some of the places we get stuck when we think about this in the context of our work as educators and researchers.

What effects do you see digital networks having on inequalities in higher ed? What sociocultural implications do networked practices hold for institutional practices? What are universities’ responsibilities to students who live and learn in hybrid online/offline contexts?

Please. Add your voices, so that this panel becomes more a node in a networked conversation than a one-off to itself. That in itself would pretty much make #dLRN15 a success, in my mind. :)

10 Comments inequality & networks: the sociocultural implications for higher ed

  1. Maha Bali

    Right, Bonnie, because conversations about important issues shouldn’t be restricted by time and space and logistics. I am looking forward to how this convo unfolds, and to contributing to it asynchronously but also synchronously during the conference via the virtually connecting session you will join on Fri Oct 16 at 12.30, hopefully with other virtual participants chiming in. We will link to this blogpost when we announce it (today I think)

  2. Caroline Kuhn

    I couldn’t agree more with the importance to consider inequity issues in the agenda of networked learning an important topic to discuss in the context of a conference. I want to share with you a quote I am citing in my own research about the need to include students in a proactive manner in the process of developing and improving digital literacies. “Internet competence is related to the satisfaction users derive from their experience, the extent to which they find it stressful or rewarding and therefore the extent to which they persist in internet use and acquire additional skills….Based on this observations we might expect inequality in competence to deepen inexorably, as skillful users find the Internet rewarding and acquire greater skills; and less able users grow frustrated and turn away” (DiMaggio et al., 2004, P. 378)
    This is so true and it brings me to think about the importance to reach out to the more disadvantage people and teach them the skills, competencies and knowledge needed to be able to take advantage of all the services and opportunities the Web offers. It is not a default status being digital literate and not being able to cope with the overwhelming ecology of resources will just bring more disconnection and disadvantage. We need to work in trying to bridge that divide. My feeling is that we tend to do research with an already advantage population, namely university students. I feel and I want to reach out to places where students are not literate because it is exactly this illiteracy what keeps them out of education (formal and informal).

  3. Keith Hamon

    Access has never been a pressing issue for me in my college courses, though I require extensive use of technology in every course I teach. From my point of view, the primary issues with students have always been (I’ve been teaching almost 40 years) interest in the course and life distractions. My classes have been interrupted far more by lack of interest and by outside distractions than by lack of access to technology. According to Statista, as of 2nd quarter 2015, Facebook has about 1.5 billion active users worldwide, very few of whom were taught to use FB in any formal sense. They all found access and learned to use FB because they were motivated to do so.

    This said, technology should help not hinder higher ed. When it hinders, we should work to fix it.

    1. bon

      Thanks, Keith. I do wonder, though, about those (students, faculty, anyone) who are not motivated to find access and learn FB…not because they need FB but because platforms can make powerful extensions of learning spaces, when used well…but only if people have the literacies to make sense of them. I don’t know how to address this one.

      1. Todd

        Hello Bon, I believe I am a case model for some aspects of this debate and exploration. My perspective has validity in application but may lack in audience identification might minimize true data points. I am an outlier in all constructs. My undergraduate degree is Ba- graphic design pathway. Mba 9 yrs or so after. No Ivy on the walls but very solid institutional ed. Montessori cultivation. My recent awareness has allowed me to dive back into self learning at an accelerated pace/level.

        On to the perspective that may provide some discussion points as stated and “welcomed” in this content I “stumbled upon”. Of course no one would expect a guy like me to think his voice had merit among the educator elite.

        An outsider is often necessary.

        1. Faculty are the first people who need to be able to connect with an audience that does not have an inherent respect for those behind a “profile picture”, as they may by walking into a physical location that uses thousands of imagery inputs to establish beliefs in/proof of a higher elevation of knowledge acumen. They, your new students, first buy into what “looks right and is comfortable” Educators are conditioned to deliver to a certain, relatively unchanging demographic which they have a solid understanding of successful approaches. I have only recently been able to speak fluently in “digital languages”. Until those languages are delineated, studied, mapped and ultimately automated to translate from any geo-social layer filter, it is a monumental task to say “Ok, now your classroom is this smartphone. Go educate here now” and the success probability can be easily assessed by my infantile skill level of mathematical application.

        Re; I did not say I was an accredited writer if I am driving many of you crazy with my writing. Please be empathetic to an art student. Run on sentences are my tendency when extra time is not possible for focused edits. Thanks in advance for understanding.

        If you look at my twitter feed alone, it will be completely misunderstood by the majority of the audience members because they can not translate the actual inputs necessary to connect… w a ceo or a 13 yr old inner city youth in a way that shows respect and challenges perceptions at the same time. Trust me, I could spend an hour, a funny and entertaining one at a minimum, sharing a multitude of established connections that many simply could not allow themselves to try, for personal reasons let alone the risk exposures to offering guidance remotely. Personal safety concerns surface very quickly as well. You can not have issue with complete life transparencies because no one can assure you will be protected. Ask Experian about it. When you realize an upset teen might be a hacker and undermine truth of data points necessary to gain funding or generate sustainable revenue streams for the universities and educators, many may want to change jobs or industries.

        My hope is these challenges have already been nullified by the truly dedicated & brilliant minds in the group and my concerns are not warranted. If not, social media people have little incentive to share the formulas many of you might be completely unaware even exits or how many. I would be happy to continue but at this point I’m guessing I have been dismissed or validated for further interview potential w a structured Q&A where I can be guided to deliver requested interest points in a streamlined manner. Late night effort here, I would be happy with a C.

        Thanks again for consideration of my sincere desire to contribute.

        All the best and I really hope you all make major advancements at this event. I have 2 children depending on it.

        – Todd

        aka The Social Beacon, mind port of, Timmy N. @humanityceo, ig- visualproky, beaonshots #vusualpro on empire ave(not active on it these days but spent 3yrs deep) … google the rest, there are too many to list. Yes, it’s WORK.

        sign off above, that’s the first example of why understanding new languages should be first on agenda. Initial reactions to my handles and positioning are often, “narcissism” Sound familiar? Is that not what they say about millennials? if you can not find value in me, how the hell will anyone connect with a skeptical digital student? Kids decide what they want to learn from online content options… it’s the only freedom they have. And anyone who knows the real feeling of real freedom knows they will rather die than stray from it’s self protection attributes. Sigh..

        Good news though, if you still get a buzz from intense self learning, you are about to party like never before. If you are open to throwing out the possible “pride behind your self assessed value”, you will incentivize individuals much more versed than me to connect with and lead the way. The only problem is they have already begun without you and may not welcome partnerships. I can, and will, provide direction on who to try to engage. Most of them do not even enter into a class that identifies themselves as social media experts.. Most of the people that do only think they are fluent. They are not because I now many and only 2 or 3 have indicated so. All perceptions in the digital landscape usually begin from an abstraction delivery method… which is why I believe only trained eyes can even indicate some coordinates with any validity. Only eyes behind the curtain know the full story.

  4. Helen Beetham

    Hi Bon, a group of us got together in 2013 to try and frame a new Grand Challenge for TEL Research in Europe. The Challenge we came up with was: ‘How can TEL contribute to challenging educational inequalities?’ A summary of our thinking on this Challenge (soon to be published) starts like this:
    Access to educational opportunity is undoubtedly extended by the availability of open learning materials, learning communities, and forms of open accreditation. However, there is limited evidence that access to these digital opportunities translates into educational success for those without other forms of educational, social and cultural capital (Bach et al 2013).Unequal distribution of digital access and know-how has in fact introduced new inequalities of participation and of educational outcome (Wessels 2013, Zillien and Marr 2013).

    Beyond individual cases, the open digital landscape favours globally successful institutions and puts pressure on the local languages, practices and education systems that are most able to support those currently disadvantaged (Olaniran 2008, Marginson and Orgorika 2010). The TEL project in Europe has coincided with the growth of technicist, managerial and commercialised approaches to education (e.g. Noble 2003) which have weakened the historical commitment to education as an emancipatory project and a democratic right.
    I’m looking forward very much to joining the conversation at dLRN15 and linking these parallel movements across continents.

  5. Pingback: Whither higher education? #dlRN15 | catherinecronin

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