Faculty Response to the Opportunities of the Digital Age: Towards a Service Culture in the Professoriate

Faculty Response to the Opportunities of the Digital Age: Towards a Service Culture in the Professoriate

David Starr-Glass (University of New York in Prague, Czech Republic)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9577-1.ch005
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The digital revolution has had a profound impact on learning opportunities, but there is often ambivalence in the ways in which faculty and colleges embrace these opportunities. Attitudes and the cultural expectations of faculty lie at the heart of any successful strategic response to the digital revolution. This chapter examines cultural values that may limit responsiveness and suggests that a new cultural paradigm is needed among faculty members. This paradigm accentuates the notion of service and a relational commitment to learners. In education, a relational service culture recognizes the value and centrality of the learner and provides a pathway for the broader strategic alignment of the academy with the opportunities that are presented by the digital age. The chapter critically appraises the need for a relational service culture among faculty that might further and expand learner-centered pedagogies, and suggests how change might be initiated and supported.
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The digital revolution in higher education means different things to different people; however, nobody doubts that the revolution is in progress. Whether seen in terms of online distance learning, massive online open courses (MOOCs), freely available open educational resources (OERs), or in the growing employment of social media in instructional design, the digital revolution has impacted the ways in which higher education sees itself and how it responds to change and innovation (European Commission, 2014; Kelly & Hess, 2013).

Many college presidents and senior administrators believe that higher education is, and certainly should be, an adopter of digital change, not simply a follower (Parker, Lenhart, & Moore, 2011). Others remain less confident about adoption progress. They recognize that higher education has been stressed by the digital challenge, but that it has not as yet risen to the challenge. They also believe that the academy is resilient and possesses the capacity to eventually make changes (Allen & Seaman, 2014; Weller & Anderson, 2013). However, there are others – particularly among the front-line teaching faculty – who complain that academic culture is inherently resistant to change and that qualities such as flexibility, responsiveness, and adaptability are in short supply (Khalil, 2013; Lai, 2011).

Although there is a lack of consensus about its impact, there is unanimity that the digital challenge will remain a permanent feature of the higher learning environment. Linked to a globalized economy, and to an increasingly internationalized world, the digital revolution has radically changed what is done – and what can be done – and there is a growing sense that a sea-change is required in higher education. There is hope that the more effective and comprehensive adoption of technological will solves some of the seemingly intractable problems faced by higher education. In Australia, for instance, the dramatic rise in tuition and administrative costs led the consultant firm Ernst and Young (2012) to warn that the whole academic system is facing imminent disaster and that “the dominant university model in Australia – a broad-based teaching and research institution, supported by a large asset base and a large, predominantly in-house back office – will prove unviable in all but a few cases over the next 10-15 years” (p. 4). In such a harsh and stressful economic climate, many look to the digital revolution as a potential solution, not a problem. Indeed, considering the disruptive power of technologies – particularly the promise of MOOCs – another independent Australian report predicted that “education systems around the world are on the brink of major transformation” (Austrade, 2013, p. 1).

The juxtaposition of a developing crisis and a possible solution is also recognized in the UK. It has been a prediction that the disruptive potentials of the digital revolution might mean that the next 50 years will be “a golden age for higher education, but only if all the players in the system, from students to governments, seize the initiative and act ambitiously” (Barber, Donnelly, & Rizvi, 2013, p. 5). The same authors warned, however, that if there is a failure to act then “an avalanche of change will sweep the system away” (p. 5). Recognizing the necessity for deep change, there has been considerable evaluation of the advantages that the digital revolution has brought to learners, particularly the opportunities of MOOCs and open educational resources. This has resulted in a large number of initiatives to incorporate these technologies into the teaching and learning practices of British and European universities (Falconer, McGill, Littlejohn, & Boursinou, 2013; Yuan & Powell, 2013; Yuan, Powell, & Olivier, 2014).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Implied Student: In activities such as developing the curriculum, designing courses, and conducting assessment, educators do not deal with actual students; instead, they make their decisions based on hypothetical representations of students that are socially-constructed and culturally-derived. There is always a mismatch between the implied and the actual student; however, in times of rapidly changing demographics and social patterns this mismatch can be substantial, leading to inappropriate and ineffective decision-making and policy formation.

Disciplinary Culture: A common set of assumptions, attitudes, conceptualizations, epistemologies, and values held by members of an academic disciplinary community (such as chemistry, or sociology), which is tacitly transmitted to new members and which shapes their views of the nature, production, transmission, and sharing of knowledge.

Marketing: Over the course of its history, and as part of the cultural values of exchange norms, definitions of marketing have undergone change. A thoughtful definition by Grönroos (2006) captures its relational dimension: “Marketing is a customer focus that permeates organizational functions and processes and is geared towards making promises through value proposition, enabling the fulfilment of individual expectations created by such promises and fulfilling such expectations through support to customers’ value-generating processes, thereby supporting value creation in the firm’s as well as its customers’ and other stakeholders’ processes” (p. 407).

Mechanistic Management Systems: These are typical of bureaucratic organizations and they are very effective in stable environment that have little market or technological change. These systems rely on a constellation of elements: functional specialization; fragmented specialist and functional approaches; clear lines of authority, control, and command; the existence of delegated responsibilities and vertical flows of information; a tendency for goals to be set by the hierarchy and transmitted downwards; and a greater respect and reliance of internally generated knowledge than of broader “cosmopolitan” knowledge.

Organic Management Systems: These systems characterize many successful organizations that have responded positively to significant change and disruption in external markets and in the technologies employed. These systems place value on a constellation of elements: the collective contribution of knowledge and experience; a holistic appraisal of the task environment and strategic responses to it; continuously redefinition of roles and fluidity of tasks; the pervasive nature of commitment and response beyond the existing hierarchies; the lateral flow of communication, information, and ideas; an emphasis on creative and innovative responses rather than on an adherence to predetermined rules; and an appreciation of the status and prestige earned in external – as opposed to the internal – environment within which the organization operates.

Reciprocity Norms: Social situations are often characterized by a balance, or equivalency, in exchanges. For example, if one party receives a gift or derives a benefit from another then an obligation to reciprocate is created. The extent of the reciprocation is determined by social and cultural expectations. Reciprocity norms are the socially and culturally appropriate patterns of behaviors and sentiments that the parties consider are required and adequate to balance the mutual obligations in a continuing relationship.

Service-Dominant Logic: The appreciation that all marketplace exchanges (both goods and services) are predicated on the provision of increased utility and ongoing value. The firm, including higher education institutions, recognizes the value of the service that it provides and makes an explicit promise to meet – and perhaps to surpass – the consumer’s anticipations. The service-dominant logic of the firm also ensures that the value promises associated with the exchange are fulfilled.

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