The Digital Academic – Critical Perspectives on Digital Technologies in Higher Education

By Dr Jessica Frawley

For the academe ‘there is no escaping the digital – no outside to which we can retreat’

In 2016 a contributor to The Guardian’s ‘Academics Anonymous’ section wrote a post entitled: ‘I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer’ . In it, the anonymous author criticised and bemoaned the increasing expectation that academics should use social media, whether to promote themselves or to be seen to appear enthusiastic. Within a week of hitting the web, the article had garnered over 300 comments, 3,000 shares, one jocular counter piece and a small storm on Twitter whose apex took the form of a parody account replete with a meme of a cat wearing a lab coat (@SeriousAcademic ).

Amongst the outrage, cats and memes was a debate on what new technologies mean for academic work and the university. For universities, digital technologies bring major changes to the way that teaching, research and communication can occur. Blogs, tweets, automatically generated citation measures, learning analytics, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), flipped classrooms, open access research – all of these impact on academic work and academic workers.

How has the new digital world changed academia and academics?

  1. Open Education and Flipped Classrooms
    Academics now have a plethora of digital tools by which they can conduct teaching and learning activities. Innovations in teaching models such as the flipped classrooms are praised and celebrated. But with these new ideas comes a shift in norms and expectations that both students and teachers must adapt to.
  2. Communication
    Universities were amongst the first adopters of email. With the introduction of WIFI, mobile and cloud computing, universities are now saturated with opportunities for academics and students to communicate with one another.
  3. Social Media
    Though blogs, Twitter and Facebook are performative spaces, academic use and appropriation of these stages are diverse. Some PhD Students have found blogging to be a way for students to create a scholarly identity, think out loud, receive feedback and engage with a community

Academic work, like many other occupations has become increasingly digitised. As in many other spheres of life, there is little separating the online and offline worlds. A complex, even contradictory picture of digital academic practice is emerging.

This is an extract from “The Digital Academic – Critical Perspectives on Digital Technologies in Higher Education”.