ISSOTL – employability and learning spaces

I had the opportunity to speak at a very enjoyable panel session at the ISSOTL conference last week. The panel members focussed on the question: How will universities contribute to students’ employability in 2020? Other panel members were

  • Professor Vijay Kumar, Associate Dean of Digital Learning, Office of Digital Learning, MIT
  • Professor Dawn Bennett, John Curtin Distinguished Professor, Faculty of Humanities, Curtin University
  • Mr Bennett Merriman, Founder and Director, Business Operations, Event Workforce (Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Sport Science, Deakin University)
  • Professor Beverley Oliver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), Deakin University, panel chair
  • Ms Siobhan Lenihan, Adviser to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), Deakin University, moderator

My specific brief was to talk about how universities can reinvent their learning places and spaces – traditional and emerging physical spaces, in the cloud, and in the spaces between – with the question of employability in mind. I made four main points:

  1. The capacity to design and manage learning spaces depends heavily on an ability to articulate the logic connecting specific properties of spaces (physical, virtual, hybrid) to significant educational affordances of various kinds – cognitive, perceptual, epistemic, social, etc.
  2. It’s a mistake to see the physical and the digital/virtual as alternatives to one another: they are best thought of as interwoven. We need to get better at connecting appropriate mixtures of digital and physical artefacts, tools, infrastructures etc to support specific kinds of valued activity
  3. When the future is uncertain, valued activities include: acquiring deep knowledge of a domain; authentic participation in the working practices of a discipline/profession; learning how to be a self-directing lifelong learner. These are familiar enough. But also, learning for an uncertain future ought to involve opportunities to participate in processes of innovation – a chance to engage in collaborative knowledge creation and to design new methods, tools and environments for inquiry.
  4. We shouldn’t think of this as just an institutional responsibility – i.e. to provide spaces appropriately furnished for these classes of valued activity. We should also be helping students to learn how to configure the spaces they’ll need for innovation and work (etc) in the future. Knowing how to construct the right environment for innovative knowledge work, and how to bring together the right mix of talents to analyse and solve a complex problem – these are key meta-level skills for success in an uncertain future.