Understanding Digital Transformations of Higher Education Teaching and Learning in the Nordics and Beyond – Call for papers

On 30-31.3.2021 (from 9.00-13.00 on each day), a group of Nordic researchers based at the Universities of Agder (Norway), Aarhus (Denmark) and KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden) will host the first of a series of two workshops on “Understanding Digital Transformations of Higher Education Teaching and Learning in the Nordics and Beyond”, funded by a grant from the Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS).

Our goal is to stimulate theoretical and empirical discussions and the dissemination of relevant research in an open, flexible and exploratory manner that fosters interdisciplinary dialogue and innovative conceptualisations. We define digital transformations in the plural to break away from monolithic linear understandings of the term, and to refer broadly to significant transformation of practices and organizational changes that are occurring in Nordic higher education (HE) teaching and learning. We also aim to understand Nordic experiences from a global perspective, and welcome comparative perspectives from other parts of the world.

In order to push conceptual and methodological innovation in the field further, the workshops focus on teaching and learning not as a self-contained area of HE, but as a dynamic field that includes the physical, virtual and blended classroom, in addition to actors, institutions and technologies that both directly support and underpin teaching and learning endeavours in a HE setting.

Our overarching questions are: what kinds of transformations occur as a result of digitalisation of teaching and learning in Nordic HE? How do we make sense of these transformations within and beyond the classroom – e.g. effects on policies and practices in organisational, governance and technology domains linked to HE teaching and learning? What theories, methods and empirical cases can successfully tackle and empirically illustrate the underlying mechanisms surrounding these and related questions?

Our main analytical focus is on the connections between: (1) teaching and learning; (2) educational technology providers and online learning technology platforms; and (3) organisational and governance processes at HE institutions’ (HEIs) and national policy levels. Key actors and their perspectives of relevance include, but are not limited to: teachers, learners, administrators and IT staff involved in the physical and virtual classroom, software developers, sales staff and managers of educational technology companies, HEIs’ administrators and national HE policy-makers.

The three domains correspond to three tracks around which the workshops are structured:

Track 1 – Teaching and Learning

Track 2 – Digital Learning Technology Platforms and Providers

Track 3 – Policy & Organisational Behaviour

For submission instructions and contacts, see the track-specific sections below.

TRACK 1 – TEACHING AND LEARNING

How are teachers, learners, administrative- and IT staff involved in the physical and virtual classrooms? 

Teachers within higher education institutions are exposed to digital resources that may/ or may not support their pedagogical work and enhance students’ learning. Such resources might be syllabus-oriented or specific software targeted to their distinct study programme, such as digital tools used in health or engineering education. Digital technologies for teachers might also include resources that support their communication with students. Moreover, digital technology may be linked to/associated with their assessment-practices. Teachers may also choose technology that supports their preferred way of teaching/ their pedagogical view/orientation. This way teachers with student centred ways of teaching, may be more likely interested in technology that support student-active approaches, whereas teachers who prefer a teacher-oriented approach might include technologies that enhance teacher-led instruction.  

Administrators and IT staff within higher education institutions have different roles and responsibilities as regards educational technology. Moreover, they are most likely to hold various types of technological expertise linked to various applications and software, for example, some are experts on learning management systems, others on library services while others may serve multimedia technology and / or communication systems.  

In this strand we invite papers, theoretically and empirically informed, to explore topics and questions addressing how digital transformation influence, or is reflected in teaching and learning in higher education such as: 

  1. how are digital transformations perceived and practiced by teachers, learners, administrative- and IT-staff?  
  2. how are discourses on digital transformations connected or disconnected?   
  3. For example, discourses on quality in online teaching communicated as broadcasting -like in the early days of MOOCs – to a social construction of learning perspective? 
  4. For example, discourses on measurements and quantifications – as in some approaches within the field of learning analytics 
  5. For example, discourses on standardisations of educational technology – one size fits all – to discipline oriented understandings and/or approaches of the possibilities and constraints of educational technology – which may lead to further investigations on: 
  6. how may digital transformations influence epistemic work within and across disciplines and education programmes (for example in planning, delivery and evaluation of teaching and learning)? 

Contributions can be theoretical reflections or, empirical and regard one single case, using quantitative or qualitative approaches, however with connection to theory/ include theoretical reflections.  

If you would like to submit a paper for consideration, kindly send a title and abstract (500-800 words) by 01.02.2021 to Cathrine E. Tømte (cathrine.tomte@uia.no) and Linda Barman (lbarman@kth.se). Extended deadline: 10.02.2021.

We will come back to you with a decision by 10.2.2021 If your abstract is accepted, you are expected to submit a short paper of around 2,000-3,000 words before the workshop and no later than 17. 3.2021.

TRACK 2 – DIGITAL LEARNING TECHNOLOGY PLATFORMS AND PROVIDERS

How are EdTech platforms and universities co-shaping digitalisation of (post-pandemic) higher education in the Nordics and beyond? Digital Bildung and other prospects

The accelerated digitalisation of higher education teaching and learning spurred by Covid-19 has moved what was an already rapidly growing niche into perhaps the main topic of debate around higher education in Nordic universities and around the world (Kalantzis and Cope, 2020). 

A gap in the growing literature on digital learning remains the role played by digital learning platforms and providers used in virtual and blended classrooms for both early pandemic ‘emergency remote teaching’ (Hodges et al. 2020) and for various forms of more established digital learning (e.g. Canvas or Blackboard for university degree programmes; Coursera, EdX or FutureLearn for MOOCs). There is a substantial literature on human-technology interfaces in digital learning, which focuses, among other things, in sometimes direct or indirect ways on the affordances of learning platforms (Gross and García-Peñalvo 2016) as well as the idealised affordance of ‘free education, anywhere, anytime’ (Barman et al. 2019). However, the symbiotic, multifaceted relationships between the learning platforms and educational technology providers in co-shaping digitalisation of higher education are rarely studied on their own terms (Thomas and Nedeva, 2018).  

At the same time, discussions on platform capitalism and platform determinism are gaining ground in the broader field of digitalisation studies, focusing on implications of platforms such as Facebook, Amazon or Uber for the economy and democracy (Srnicek, 2016). Current debates range from concern over concentration of economic power in a few large tech conglomerates, to implications for privacy of the kind of data and surveillance capitalism that sustains these business models (Zuboff, 2019). There are also implications for social cohesion and democracy when such platforms are used and abused for fake news or other activities that erode democratic institutions and freedoms (Bennett and Lyon, 2019). 

Educational technology providers cannot unproblematically be put in the same category as Facebook or Twitter. Nevertheless a variety of market, economic, institutional and societal factors are spurring increased discussion of potentially wide-ranging effects for teachers, learners and organisations of introducing and expanding EdTech platforms in higher education daily life (Marshall, 2010; Goodman et al., 2018; Reich and Ruipérez-Valiente, 2019). These range from issues around development of learning analytics to increasing digitalisation of various forms of assessment and classroom activities (Deimann 2015; Selwyn et al. 2015; Cope and Kalantzis, 2020). 

This workshop track aims to explores some of these aspects with empirical and theoretical papers. These can focus on cases in the Nordics and beyond, or take a global perspective on Nordic experiences compared to other areas. We welcome a mix of papers that focus on different countries or regions of the world, while also aiming to include a significant number of contributions based on Nordic cases. 

One angle that we are particularly interested in pursuing (among others) is what some literature in Nordic education studies refers to as ‘digital bildung’ (Tække and Paulsen, 2017; Gran, 2019; Gran et al., 2019). This is an emerging, holistic term encompassing the social and ethical growth or ‘edification’ of students in becoming competent in digitalisation, not only from a technical point of view, but also as mature and maturing citizens in a democratic and cohesive society (Tække and Paulsen, 2016). A focus on digital bildung could provide an entry point to help understand better dilemmas, tensions and challenges in play for technology/education provider relationships in attempting to co-shape and integrate learning platforms into the everyday life of HE teachers and learners.  

Beyond this, other pedagogical lenses here may also highlight tensions inherent in relationships between market-oriented, ostensibly disruptive platform providers (Reich and Ruipérez-Valiente, 2019) and digitalisation of higher education with different trajectories. In an arena dominated by profit-oriented EdTech platform providers aiming to cultivate employability-related capabilities with rudimentary instructional designs (Margaryan et al. 2015) what are the prospects for other EdTech/university digitalisation pathways focused on more public conceptions of the HE mission? Which mediating relationships can help to institutionalise and harness positive and negative potentials of platform-driven digitalisation of HE teaching and learning here? 

Within this overarching focus on multiple potential roles of learning platforms and EdTech providers and relationships to higher education organisations and teaching and learning approaches and prospects, we welcome contributions on, but not limited to any of the following broad themes and areas of analysis: 

  • The intersection of market and state logics in private EdTech provider/public HEI relationships; 
  • ‘Digital bildung’ and ‘digital civics’; 
  • Learning analytics and online learning platforms; 
  • HEI teacher and learner experiences with online learning platforms; 
  • Other actors beyond teachers and learners mediating or implementing online learning platform workflows (e.g. software developers, instructional designers, HE IT staff, HE administrators, HE managers etc.); 
  • Policy, governance and institutional aspects of managing online platforms at organisational and sectoral level; 
  • Online learning platforms and privacy implications. 

Contributions can be empirical papers, focused on a single case or multiple cases, or theoretical reflections, using qualitative and/or quantitative approaches. 

If you would like to submit a paper for consideration, kindly send a title and abstract (500-800 words) by 1 February 2021  10. February 2021 (extended deadline)to Vito Laterza (vito.laterza@uia.no) and Duncan A. Thomas (dat@ps.au.dk). We will come back to you with a decision by 10 February 2021. If your abstract is accepted, you are expected to submit a short paper of around 2,000-3,000 words before the workshop and no later than 17 March 2021.

TRACK 3 – POLICY AND ORGANISATIONAL BEHAVIOUR

This working group (WG3) is interested in unpacking the effects of digital transformation at multiple levels of analysis, from the macro (policy instruments and logics), to the meso (structures, strategies and practices) to the micro (roles, interests and relationships). In so doing, we aim to assess these aspects against the backdrop of Covid19 as an external shock, and the notion of a ‘new normal’. Hence, the following queries (not exclusively) and respective sub-questions are of relevance to investigate in the context of ongoing dynamics in Nordic higher education: 

How do shifts in government policy affect universities’ formal and informal practices?  

  • How do individual HEIs make strategic use of governmental policies, e.g. as regards market profiling or branding? 
  • To what extent and in what ways do HEIs respond to policy signals and instruments? (compliance, resistance, avoidance, etc.) 
  • How are policy ideas and global scripts translated at the local (HEIs) level? (who are the key actors and which strategic agendas get enacted and why?)  
  • How do different policy domains (economy, culture, health, etc.), and their complex interplay, affect digitalisation agendas more broadly (society) and HEIs more specifically? 
  • In what way do shifts in policy regimes (digitalisation) affect social relations (power struggles, collaboration, competition, etc.) within HEIs, and why? 
  • In what way and to what extent do academic groups shape government policy agendas (upstreaming) in light of their vested interests? 

How does digital transformation impact HEIs’ functions, norms, values and social relations? 

  • To what way does digital transformation contribute to/accelerate the rise of hybrid structures within HEIs? 
  • How do individual and collective actors within HEIs strategically respond to the opportunities brought by digitalisation, and who benefits and why? 
  • What are the consequences, if any, of digitalisation for the academic profession (norms, values, roles, identities, etc.)? 
  • How does digitalisation mediate the relations amongst academics on the one hand, and between academics and administrators on the other? 
  • How do HEIs nurture a ‘digital culture’ across the board, and how is this affected by the multiplicity of disciplinary cultures and mindsets within HEIs? 
  • What types of new academic roles are emerging (role portfolio), and how do these relate (clash, complement, coexist, etc.) with existing ones? (e.g. third space academics) 
  • Who are the early adopters of digital ideas and solutions, and what role do they play in adaptation/translation and diffusion (institutionalisation) processes within HEIs? 
  • What types of tensions and counter-reactions (resistance) have emerged the in light of Covi19 as a digitalisation accelerator?  How and by whom? 
  • What types of new structural arrangements (innovations) geared towards fostering the digitalisation of teaching and research have come to the fore, and how/to what extent have they been integrated in existing (‘old’) structures? 
  • What roles do external stakeholders (besides the state and its regulative and funding agencies) play in the adoption and adaptation of digitalisation at HEIs? 
  • What types of effects does digital transformation have beyond teaching and learning, in the realms of staff development, research, societal engagement, etc.? 
  • What types of unintended consequences resulting from the premature adoption of a digitalisation agenda within HEIs have come to the fore? 

Criteria

The contributions may take the form of single-case studies of e.g. institutions or other settings, but the working group is also particularly interested in seeing contributions which present comparative studies of the dynamics in question. If you would like to submit a paper for consideration, kindly send a title and abstract (500-800 words) by 1 February 2021  10. February 2021 (extended deadline)to Romulo Pinheiro (romulo.m.pinheiro@uia.no). We will come back to you with a decision by 10 February 2021. If your abstract is accepted, you are expected to submit a short paper of around 2,000-3,000 words before the workshop and no later than 17 March 2021. 

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