I was sent a pre-publication copy of Cathy Davidson's new book The New Education recently, to review. Cathy is one of my favourite authors because she pulls no punches and writes in a style that challenges and encourages in equal measure. She is a doyen of the progressive education movement, and her ideas are far reaching and influential.
The strapline for Davidson's latest book is 'how to revolutionize the university to prepare students for a world in flux.
' It's one that many, many academics can identify with across the globe, because higher education is generally in a state of inertia while the world flows by rapidly around it. No matter what innovations are created inside of the university around pedagogy, they rarely if ever seem to take root and spread across institutions. This is ironic, given that many other innovations, usually of a technical nature (i.e. inventions and techniques) do tend to take root and grow quickly beyond the bounds of universities.
Cathy Davidson is quite critical of current the higher education system, citing numerous examples of how creativity is stifled and how '...the teacher's authority, the broadcast model of pedagogy - all the components of higher education...'
are perpetuated regardless of whatever innovations emerge (p. 110). This translates from American campus based education to faculties across the globe, because this is a world wide issue, she says.
So what of technology? Davidson does not see technology as a panacea for all the ills of higher education though. Rather she warns that technology can dazzle us so much that we forget the past and lose our way in the present (p. 109), arguing that whatever our reaction to digital tools, 'technophilia and technophobia harm in both directions'
(p 109). She does however, see a future for blended campus learning, where traditional forms of education stand side by side with online learning in all its forms. 'Online learning,' she states pragmatically, 'will never fully replace brick and mortar institutions, but it is also certain to get better over time'
(p 120). This implies that campus based higher education may not be able to improve at a similar rate, due to its inertia and stagnation.
Davidson also rightly criticises the manner in which MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) have been hijacked by the for-profit platforms, and cites several failures in recent years by the likes of Coursera and Udacity to make any headways into revolutionising higher education. Yes, more students than ever are enrolled on MOOCs (p. 122), but 'completion rates remain dismal'.
She concedes that online education will continue to succeed, not because it is better than anything else out there, but 'it's succeeding because it's better than nothing, and nothing is what's currently on offer for millions of people' (p. 123). Davidson's passion and enthusiasm for equity in education is evident throughout this eminently readable text. It is written and presented in a populist style and avoids any of the complicated, dense language that sometimes occurs in volumes of this nature. She soundly critiques the system, providing systematic reviews, evidence and interviews with key players, but goes farther to offer some solutions to the malaise of university teaching. At the tail end of the book, she provides two appendices which map out some of the immersive, interactive teaching methods she employs successfully with her own students. The book would be worth the cover price just for academics to read this section alone.
Apart from a few minor inaccuracies (she cites George Siemens as the inventor of the acronym MOOC, when in fact the credit should go to fellow Canadian academic Dave Cormier, p. 123), the book provides a balanced and reasoned critique of age old establishments, offers some practical solutions, and presents these in a fast paced, accessible and memorable. Whether a revolution will ever take place in universities along the lines Cathy Davidson recommends, remains to be seen, but we all yearn to see higher education produce 'muti-talented, versatile, visionary, cross-disciplinary thinkers' (p. 39), - and heaven knows, we'll need them in a world of rapid change where every layer of society is in a constant state of flux. The New Education by Cathy N. Davdson will be published by Basic Books, New York in September this year.
The New Education #bookreview by Steve Wheeler
was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's