Place – the industrial society’s impact on schools – and universities?

The Ps Framework: a messy version

The intent of the Ps Framework is to help identify and lightly organise the different components, and the different perspectives of those components, that impact the practice of e-learning within universities. Arguably they could be applied to learning and teaching in general, but the focus of this work is e-learning, so I limit it to that.

The underlying/all encompassing Ps component is “place”. Place includes all the contextual and environmental factors, the place, within which e-learning will occur. Consideration of these factors is important and cannot be ignored because contextual factors shape the decision making process and may amplify, moderate or suppress certain factors (Jamieson, Hyland and Soosay, 2007). Higher education institutions are tied to their local context.

In the thesis, I’m currently planning to organise the multitude of factors within “Place” into the following groupings:

  • societal;
    A long list of common factors fit in here: globalisation, the massification of higher education, the knowledge society, increasing managerialism, reduced government fundings etc.
  • sector; and
    The characteristics and accepted norms of the higher education industry limit what is acceptable and what is not. They tend to define an orthodoxy.
  • institutional.
    The type of institution, how an institution (and its members) see itself, how this “vision” informs policy, practice and actual decision making all impact upon the practice of e-learning. For example, Simpson (2003) identifies two types of institutions
    1. survivalist; and
      Where higher education is perceived as a competition where the survival of the fittest reigns.
    2. remedialist.
      Where the perspective of higher education results in a more inclusive culture.

The impacts of Place are not always that obvious. White (2006) makes the observation that organisational and societal characteristics also help create the emotional context in which learning and teaching occurs and frame how individuals and organisations respond.

It’s the way we do things around here

Then there is also the unspoken assumptions that “the way we do things around here” is the best and only way of “doing things around here”. This starts to overlap with another component of the Ps – “Past Experience” (the overlapping nature of these components is one reason the framework image is so messy – real life is messy).

The “way we do things around here” is historical. It’s influenced, sometimes directly, because of the nature of the “Place” some time ago.

The Industrial Revolution and the design of schools

In the following video, Alvin Toffler and his wife talk about how much of the “way we do things around here” in education, specifically schools, are directly influenced by the nature of the “Place” a couple of hundred years ago. Not suprisingly, he’s made a number of calls for the “way we do things around here” in education to be replaced by approaches more suitable to the current “Place”.

There have been changes in the “Place” in which universities operate that bring into serious questions the validity of many of its existing practices.

Other changes in place impacting upon universities

From my perspective there are a lot of the same influences, which the Tofflers discuss in the context of schools, that also effect universities. Perhaps not the same extreme, but there is certainly a major influence, that many others have pointed out.

Some other changes in Place:

  • Scarcity to abundance.
    Information, technology and many other things that were once scarce are now abundant. Practices and approaches that worked when things were scarce, don’t make sense any more.
  • Abundance to scarcity.
    In the current financial climate you could perhaps also add a change that goes the other way. However, in my “Place” the Australian higher education sector, while that may be somewhat true. There are indications that it won’t be all that bad. Perhaps no where near as bad as it may be for universities in the USA. This makes the point that universities in different societies are impacted differently.
  • Increasing change.
    The “cliche” – the only thing that is constant is change applies. The change is accelerating. Approaches that assume a stable state are not approprite.

..and there are others.

References

Jamieson, K., P. Hyland, et al. (2007). “An exploration of a proposed balanced decision model for the selection of enterprise resource plannin systems.” International Journal of Integrated Supply Management 3(4): 345-363.

Simpson, O.P. (2003, November 5–7). Mature student retention – the case of the UK Open University. Paper presented at the International Student Retention Conference, Amsterdam.

White, N. (2006). “Tertiary education in the Noughties: the student perspective.” Higher Education Research & Development 25(3): 231-246.

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