20 Feb 2015

International education and technology: A mirage or a reality?

Some four years ago, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) seemed to be the proverbial evil alien set out to destroy the universe, or at least the universities. And while there have been some interesting developments and even moderate successes since then, it seems safe to say that the worst fears or the greatest expectations have hardly been realised. Why is that, and can we now assume that we will just have to wait for the next hype around the corner?

These questions were inspired by the recent AIEA annual conference in Washington DC. The conference theme was ‘Leading Global Learning: Envisioning New Paradigms’, and it would not require a whole lot of imagination to figure out that technology-related issues would be strongly present. And they were, no doubt about it. Many sessions were devoted to the topic of education technologies and the majority of the plenary speeches were either on the topic, or made references to it.

Uncertain future

But it has to be said that after all this, I am none the wiser as to where we stand or where we might be heading in terms of making the connection between technology and international higher education. Even one of the keynote speakers, Professor George Siemens seemed to be convinced that we are entering a new era, but apart references to common buzzwords such as ‘digitisation’, the roadmap for the future remains unclear to me. And this is surprising, since Professor Siemens is often referred to as ‘the grandfather of MOOCs’.

Now, I am not often the first one to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to new ‘hypes’ – quite the contrary. So, am I pleased because I predicted that the bricks and mortar universities would not come crumbling down with the rise of MOOCs, or that blended learning would not become the mainstream of international higher education? Should I pat myself on the back for having been right, or making the correct prediction? The answer is no! It is quite clear that the use of technology in all aspects of international higher education must have a stronger purpose.

The need for change

I have had an opportunity to get a sneak preview of the EAIE Barometer results – the recent comprehensive research undertaken by the EAIE to map the state of internationalisation in Europe – and based on more than 2000 responses it is quite clear that online learning is not yet embedded in higher education institutions’ internationalisation strategies. I do think that we are doing ourselves a serious disservice if we choose to ignore both the strategic and operational possibilities for a more purposeful use of technology in our work.

I wonder, if the problem is partly in our attitudes or in the lack of knowledge and skills? Are we all just too stuck in our ways? Or do we just not have a common language with the ‘techies’? Be that as it may, things must change. And EAIE and its membership should become the vanguard in this respect. Some steps are already being taken, but there is much more work ahead of us. You may consider this as a (technological) call to arms…

By Markus Laitinen, EAIE Vice-President